JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Delta flight from Atlanta to Jacksonville early Saturday was held on the tarmac for security reasons as authorities spent three hours searching the passengers and their bags after a report of a possible device on board.
Michael Stewart, Jacksonville International Airport’s director of external affairs, said the Federal Aviation Administration alerted the airport to the report of the device around 12:20 a.m. and Delta Flight 1223 landed at 12:30 a.m. on a tarmac isolated from the airport, according to protocol, given the security conditions.
“I looked out the window and could tell we were not on the regular runway. We were on the furthermost runway the airport has,” said David Smith, a passenger on the flight. “I think it was something that had to be taken seriously.”
It’s unclear where the device might have been reported but after an hours-long search, nothing was found.
The FBI is continuing to investigate, but the agency has not responded to questions about the incident.
The plane took off from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport at 11:24 p.m.
Bottles of water were distributed to passengers as 30 law enforcement officers boarded the plane to conduct the search. According to passengers and concerned family members, the FBI took control of the situation.
Angela Milton, a mother of one of the passengers, said the pilot first told the passengers it was a maintenance issue. Later they were told that wasn’t the case.
“They came back an hour later and stated ‘OK, it’s a credible threat that’s on the plane’ and they are not allowing any of the passengers to get off of the plane,” Milton said.
Multiple units arrived including JSO’s bomb squad and a K-9 unit from Jacksonville Aviation. They did a sweep of the plane and checked bags. Passengers were screened.
They didn’t begin deplaning until 3:30 a.m. They were then taken from the airplane to the U.S. Customs area of the airport for another hour of searching and questioning.
“We are evacuating the plane now onto the tarmac. Guns and FBI greeting us as we deplane,” one passenger told News4Jax overnight.
Around 4:45 a.m. -- over four hours after the plane landed -- passengers were released with their bags.
They eventually boarded buses that took them to the DoubleTree Hotel on airport property. JAX tweeted passengers could be picked up from the hotel.
No one was hurt during the incident, Stewart said, and airport operations returned to normal at 5 a.m.
“There was a situation. We addressed it, handled it and it turned out successful,” Stewart said.
We are aware of a security incident at JAX, and access is restricted at the terminal. If you are picking up a passenger, you can meet them at the @JAXDoubleTree on airport property.— JAXairport (@JAXairport) June 5, 2021
A roadblock at the terminal was released, and Saturday flights returned to normal.
According to Stewart, passengers were not in danger. He also said this incident is most likely not connected to Friday’s incident where a belligerent passenger was arrested at JAX. In a separate incident, a Delta flight from Los Angeles to Nashville was forced to land in Albuquerque Friday afternoon after a passenger tried to breach the cockpit.
The FBI sent News4Jax this statement saying it “investigates violations of federal law, which includes any potential criminal act that occurs in the air. As a result, Special Agents were called to respond alongside our partners to this incident. Our investigation is ongoing, and no additional details are available for release at this time.”