United flight from Newark to LA diverted to O'Hare after bomb threat, sources say

ByChuck Goudie, Evelyn Holmes, Christian Piekos, and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones WLS logo
Thursday, February 22, 2024
Passenger describes being on flight diverted for bomb threat
A United Airlines flight flying from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles landed at O'Hare airport after a security issue, the FAA said.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A United Airlines flight flying from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles landed at O'Hare airport after a security issue Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

According to a source, a flight attendant found a bomb threat written in a lavatory.

There was no altercation between a passenger and crew members.

Law enforcement and airline sources previously told the ABC7 I-Team that a passenger on United #1533 physically tangled with crew members and others on the flight.

They said it happened while the jetliner was airborne and classified as a "Level Two" threat, which is how the FAA refers to a passenger who physically engages others on the aircraft.

Authorities diverted to O'Hare just after 7:30 a.m., where there was a Plan One emergency landing with police, fire trucks and ambulances in place by about 8:10 a.m.

The FBI said early Wednesday morning, FBI-Chicago and local partners responded to an incident with an aircraft at O'Hare airport.

"There is no indication that there is an imminent threat to public safety or the facility itself at this time," the FBI said.

CPD said a flight made an emergency landing at O'Hare, and the plane was evacuated.

SEE ALSO: Man duct-taped on flight to Chicago after trying to open door, passengers say

Police responded and cleared the scene.

"They didn't even announce anything to start," passenger Richard Fickling said. "I got a notification on my watch that said my flight was being diverted to Chicago and then everybody in the cabin started looking at each other trying to figure out what was going on. We could feel we were starting to descend. I looked on the seatback map that the new destination as Chicago and then finally after like 15 minutes, the pilot came on the radio, or on the PA, and said there was a situation and that we had to descend."

Passengers were deplaned and taken by bus to a secure area.

"As we were getting closer to Chicago, they were really adamant that everyone stay in their seats, like they were starting to shout at passengers if they started to get up. They said, 'we'll have authorities waiting to arrest you when we land," Fickling said.

United Airlines said in a statement, "United flight 1533 diverted to Chicago this morning due to a potential security concern. The flight landed safely and met local law enforcement upon arrival. Customers deplaned and we expect the flight to depart for Los Angeles later this afternoon."

Fickling was one of 211 passengers and crew members unexpectedly forced to deplane early at a remote part of O'Hare airport.

"You've got to be a bit of a jerk to do something like this," he said.

Fickling said the crew told passengers to stay seated until they landed in Chicago.

"They took us around to a maintenance hangar, and there were emergency vehicles, fire trucks, police vehicles, everything around us, but they were keeping their distance," he said.

Pictures show first responders swarming the plane, as passengers exit.

He said they then boarded buses, and were moved to another area to be searched, but that search never happened.

The Chicago Department of Aviation said they were taken to Terminal 1.

Fickling also said he saw no one taken into custody.

"You just wasted a full day of 200 to 250 people's time. Plus, there's probably 50 to 100 people at United dealing with this," he said.

United flight 1533 left O'Hare earlier Wednesday afternoon for LA.

No injuries were reported in the incident.

Sources tell ABC7 Chicago police bomb sniffing dogs searched the plane, and found no threat.