Updated: Friday, 18 Dec 2009, 6:23 PM CST
Published : Friday, 18 Dec 2009, 3:23 PM CST
AUSTIN (KXAN) - Federal officials investigated a bomb threat at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport after a threatening note was found in the bathroom of an American Airlines jet.
The plane was cleared, the passengers questioned, and the craft was ready for take-off around 5 p.m., four hours after the threat was reported. The plane finally started to taxi to the runway at 6 p.m.
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Flight 2486 from Austin to Chicago still was on the ground, waiting to taxi down the runway, when a threat to the plane was reported just after 1 p.m. The aircraft never took off. The airport was not evacuated, and other flights are taking off and landing as usual.
The bomb threat, a note in the bathroom of the plane, was found by a passenger, who reported it to the flight crew. The flight attendant notified the pilot, who informed the tower.
Instead of taking off, the plane was emptied and moved to an unpopulated area of the tarmac near the empty South Terminal while baggage was removed and bomb-sniffing dogs checked the plane. No evidence of any type of bomb was found in luggage or on board, said federal officials.
At this hour, passengers from the plane have been taken to an off-site location away from the airport, where each of the 129 passengers will be questioned individually by the FBI.
"We take every single incident as seriously as the next," TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said of its handling of this, or any, flight threat. "We are expected to apply our full force of resources to each and every incident as a part of our due diligence in the situation."
The plane is still being processed as a crime scene. It has been turned over to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which will pursue any potential criminal or civil charges in the case. If the FBI can determine who left the note, law enforcement could pursue civil and criminal penalties.
If and when the plane is cleared, the passengers will re-board and take off for Chicago.
McCauley reminds travelers that a threat -- in the form of a note on a plane or even a casual joke at a checkpoint -- is treated with the same level of seriousness by TSA. TSA is not a law enforcement agency, but even a comment that could be construed as a potential threat made to TSA staff at a checkpoint could lead to a civil penalty up to $10,000, McCauley said.
"It's important to remind passengers who think it's a joke to make a comment at a checkpoint that it's a very serious violation. A passenger might make a comment and not realize that once the comment is made, it's considered a legitimate threat," McCauley said. "That's not the kind of situation anyone would enjoy during the holidays."