AirTran e-mail stirs up Internet firestorm

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by Leigh Frillici / 11 News

khou.com

Posted on December 3, 2009 at 7:26 PM

Updated Sunday, Dec 6 at 1:16 PM

 

The FAA is investigating an incident aboard an AirTran flight from Atlanta to Houston that touched off a firestorm of e-mails.

AirTran Flight 297 was delayed on November 17 after a passenger refused to turn off his cell phone.
 
An e-mail sent out by Houstonian Tedd Petruna, who was on the flight, said that wasn’t the whole story.  Petruna's e-mail said there were 11 Muslims traveling together on the plane and two of them ignored flight attendants' orders to turn off their cell phones. He said they shouted at the flight attendants, and he and another passenger had to intervene.
 
Petruna said the 11 Muslims were removed from the plane,  but allowed back on after they were searched. That angered the crew and many passengers, according to Petruna. His e-mail said the crew left the plane and so did some of the passengers.
 
According to the e-mail, Petruna and other passengers believed they witnessed a dry run for a terrorist attack.
 
Petruna said he couldn’t talk to 11 News on camera, but Chaplain Keith Robinson, who was also on the flight, did talk with us.
 
Robinson missed the original flight, but boarded after the plane taxied back to the gate because of the cell phone delay.
“Flight attendants were sobbing openly,” Robinson said.
 
Robinson said a passenger getting off the plane warned him not to get on. “He said ‘I just saw them, there were these Middle Eastern men. They were taking pictures. They wouldn’t sit down,‘” Robinson said. “Besides that, he said a couple of them were making gestures with their hand as if they were shooting people.” 
 
Another passenger on the flight told the Atlanta Journal Constitution the whole thing was blown out of proportion. She said the Muslim passenger didn't understand the flight attendant's request because he didn't speak English.
 
In a statement to 11 News, AirTran said, “A number of the allegations included in the article posted by Mr. Petruna conflict with the statements obtained by the flight crew.” 
 
Petruna and Robinson have since compared notes about the experience. “He came across as very credible. I really look upon him as a patriot, not a nutcase,” Robinson said.
 
Petruna stands by his statements, with the exception of his description of the men’s attire. He also said he never witnessed the Muslims watching porn, as he said in the e-mail.
 
Petruna said he never intended for the e-mail to be sent nationwide, but he’s “glad it got out.”
 

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