Last line of defense against in-flight terrorism: passengers
Terrorism on 9/11 permanently altered how passengers respond to airline hijackings, rewriting the conventional wisdom that the best way for passengers to stay safe is to stay quiet.
While the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest Flight 253 revealed the limits of airport security in thwarting terrorism, it did prove the effectiveness of one post-9/11 defense mechanism: passenger vigilance.Skip to next paragraph
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It was the reaction of Jasper Schuringa (a Dutch video director), other passengers, and the flight crew that prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from igniting explosives and potentially bringing down Flight 253 flying to Detroit from Amsterdam, authorities say.
“I just jumped. I didn’t think. I went over there and tried to save the plane,” Mr. Schuringa told CNN.
Those are the same kinds of instincts seen in passengers’ response to shoe bomber Richard Reid, who tried to take down a Paris-to-Miami flight in December 2001 by lighting explosives hidden in his shoe.
“Passengers were eventually able to remove Reid’s shoe and restrain him using belts and whatever was available. One man on board, a doctor, sedated Reid. Another passenger held a fire extinguisher as a weapon while Reid was being restrained,” said then-US Attorney General John Ashcroft in a January 2002 press conference.
The rulebook changed on 9/11
The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, permanently altered how passengers respond to airline hijackings and rewrote the conventional wisdom that the safest course of action for passengers was the one of least resistance. While Al Qaeda operatives destroyed the Twin Towers and crashed a plane into the Pentagon that day, passengers aboard United Flight 93 overpowered their hijackers once they learned about those earlier attacks. That resulted in the aircraft plunging into a Pennsylvania field, rather than proceeding to its likely target: the White House or the United States Capitol.