2002-02-16 / Front Page

Fighter Jets Once Again Over Rockaway

By Howard Schwach

Fighter Jets Once Again Over Rockaway
By Howard Schwach

For the third time since last September, fighter planes roared low over the Rockaway peninsula a week ago Friday. The first was on September 11, when F-18's and F-14's from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which stood right off Rockaway's shores, its planes flying high cover over Manhattan. The second was on November 12, when American Airlines Airbus A300, flight 587 crashed into Rockaway and, for a time, officials were uncertain whether the crash was an accident or a terrorist act. On that day, Air Force F-15's and F-16's continually flew over the peninsula and over Manhattan.

In the latest incident, an American Airlines A300 was again involved.

While officials of American Airlines and the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) were reluctant to talk about the incident, a Wave editor, driving along Beach Channel Drive nearby the Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway, witnessed the two F-16's in trail of the Airbus coming in low, approaching JFK Airport.

Just after the airliner dropped out of sight, the two jets went to afterburner and roared almost vertically up over the Rockaway peninsula to continue their patrol.

There were a number of calls to The Wave that afternoon, seeking information of what the fighters had been doing over Rockaway.

The Wave was able to piece the story together from a number of sources, both official and unofficial.

Police say that the incident began when two unidentified British men on the flight from London to JFK began "acting suspiciously" by continually going to the bathroom at the back of the aircraft together. Passengers complained to a flight attendant, who reported the problem to the pilot.

"The pilot then radioed ahead to Kennedy to have the Port Authority police meet the plane," an American Airlines official said.

Air Force officials, monitoring the airline's radio frequency sent the two F-16's to intercept the airliner over the Atlantic Ocean and to escort it into Kennedy. Air Force officials refused comment on their procedures in such cases or what the fighters had been ordered to do had the plane deviated from its flight path.

According to the airlines, however, the escort was unwanted.

"The captain (of the jetliner) requested that this not happen, because he didn't believe that the situation was that serious," the airline spokesman said. "But, it happened anyway."

According to unofficial sources at the airport, the two men were asleep when the plane landed. They were escorted from the plane by the Port Authority police, customs officials and FAA agents.

The two admitted that they had locked themselves in the plane's cramped bathroom to have sex and to smoke crack. No drugs were found on the two men.

Because of that admission, immigration officials refused them entry into the United States. They were put on a plane bound for London later that day, escorted by two employees of American Airlines.

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