Camera Buff Released After La Guardia Security Incident


The man at the center of the emergency taxiway evacuation of an American Eagle flight at La Guardia on Saturday was a vintage camera buff whose in-flight preoccupation with his hobby was misinterpreted by a seatmate. The unidentified passenger spent part of the flight looking at websites and watching videos about old cameras and a woman sitting near him thought he was looking at bomb-making sites. When he pulled a camera from his carry-on and started changing the settings on it, she reported him to a flight attendant.

The flight crew declared an emergency and ordered the aircraft evacuated on a taxiway as soon as they’d cleared the runway. After he’d gone down the slide with his fellow passengers, the camera buff was tackled face first to the asphalt by two firefighters. He was arrested and taken into custody and the real story emerged to authorities. After a couple of hours of talking with local police and federal agents, he was free to go. “The JTTF [Joint Terrorism Task Force], the FBI and the Port Authority Police Department determined that there was no criminality on the part of the passenger and he was released,” Port Authority spokesman Tom Topousis said.

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  1. “Released!” After being tackled by two firefiighters and probably needing dental work from eating asphalt! We need to abolish airport firefighters.

    This is proof positive that women shouldn’t be allowed to fly … they don’t mind their own business and usually start rumors and talk too much. That guy should sue her for false accusations. (Before ya’ll attack … I’m KIDDING! — indigenous people’s day always makes me crazy!)

    • Still, if I was the guy, I would sue the woman. At the very least, it would cost her a lot of money; I have lawyer friends that would make darned sure of that.
      It’s pretty darned ignorant to think that someone on a plane would be learning how to make a bomb whilst flying on that very plane, having cleared security with all of his bomb-making supplies.

      • Bomb making supplies – his digital camera settings needing adjustments for the next dramatic up close in-your-face shots only an expensive telephoto lens can capture or fisheye lens for wide views of everything aircraft, and of course his laptop to review every aircraft he’d forgotten or can’t identify while searching frantically for new ones in the area he’s traveling too. Most would describe this person as a plane spotter. He may be contributing to sites catering to world wide plane spotters. I’ve come across one site online from curiosity. Does that make me a possible terrorist?

        I should have turned in two close electronic techs I worked with as they were looking at images of airplanes on a computer or when outside. Our building is next to JFK airport, easy access once past guarded entrances. Two access roads were directly to the airport for easier cargo handling with security handling personnel having access via photo identification. As a retired electronic tech from the same facility, I was too busy blogging a car site while on standby as the other two were comparing notes on airplanes. I learned the term plane spotting later.

    • There are generally laws that protect accusers if the accusation was made in good faith, even if it turns out not to be true. I didn’t see anything in the article that suggests the accusation was made in bad faith. It might have been made stupidly, but not with bad intentions.

      • Walking past a house in the neighborhood one night I heard a woman SCREAMING to the effect “No – no – stop – no”. High distress and not playing. I hit 911 and suggested someone might be taking a beating. The cops arrived in about 90 secs – the dispatcher could clearly hear the distressed woman too.

        A few back and forth with the cops grabbing a male leaving the premises, asking me what I heard and back and forth a couple of more times.

        Well turns out he was breaking up with her and leaving her and she was screaming “No – no – stop – no” (“don’t leave me” – being the omitted part).

        Cops totally understood why I called and stressed I should not hesitate again.

        It’s a fine line.

  2. Karen deserves to be beaten with an antique camera until she learns some judgement.

    This is akin to yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theater. Free speech does not extent to harming others.

    She needs to be prosecuted.

  3. So where is the follow on story about what’s being done to the accuser OR the dumb stewardess who can’t tell a camera from some ‘device,’ either. And how many FREE flights is the poor camera dude gonna get from American Eagle? THAT’s the problem here. All’s that has to happen is someone accuses another of “something” and right away they’re guilty. I “get” that they were airborne — mnking it more serious — but this is just like the poor guy beaten and taken off — was it a United airplane — because he wouldn’t give up his paid for seat.

    This whole thing has gone far enough and I predict that the backlash will now begin. Same thing with today’s political theatre. If I were that poor guy … there’d be hell to pay on the part of numerous people. The pilot did good; the rest of ’em … not so much. Then again, had one of the flight deck crew been authorized to carry, we might be talking about (innocent) camera man posthumously?

    • My thoughts exactly, Larry. In this PC world we live in, where we’re guilty until proven innocent, the only way to fight back is legally after the incident is over. No or little investigation by the FA, let alone the pilot or co-pilot, and some of the passengers were injured during the evacuation on the taxiway. More lawsuits to come and/or free tickets to those involved. Was the poor passenger even questioned by any of the flight crew what he was doing? We’re all on such a hair-trigger these days, this is the result of our paranoia, such as Dave Miller describes below.

  4. Would be very curious to hear what the cabin crew told the flight crew about what was happening in the passenger compartment; then, to hear the discussion on the flight deck about what to do. Also, whether the flight crew exchanged any ACARS messages with company dispatch or management before electing their COA.

  5. Seems society is brimming with ‘Karens’ and ‘Kens’ lately – but we’ve all had experience with them since grade school. Nothing new here. I put nearly all of the blame on the FA’s, crew and law inforcement for this one, lacking discrimination when it counts to keep calm, fly the plane, and assess the situation like adults should be doing.

    To the point, we are facing ever-increasing situations that develop and manifest too quickly for the awareness of many to keep up with. We’ve created algorithms and digital platforms that have scrambled our brains. The new technologies have shortened our attention spans, heightened our anxieties, made us more prone to anger, fear and depression and more in need of outside validation, less capable of patient reflection and less interested in seeking out different points of view. The medium of ‘Twitter’ is a perfect example for people who think in spasms, speak in grunts, emote with insults and salute with hashtags.

    This event is an outlier in aviation, perhaps, but I think it reflects this new subconscious state of paranoia and insecurity by too many that serves us no benefit in dealing with the arduous task of needing to live among each other.

  6. This kind of incident is what happens in a country when the political climate puts everyone on edge, instead of feeling safe. Throw in the real threats of the pandemic and it’s natural to become suspicious and distrustful of everything. When the comfort of the familiar is replaced with outright lies and innuendo, what results is a general state of unease and anxiety and fear.
    As long as a certain political faction continues to propagate lies that blame others (misdirecting attention from their own power grabs), anxiety driven behavior will continue to occur in all sorts of places and in all sorts of manners, such as increased violence, increased crime, more “rowdy” behavior by crowds, increased thoughts of various “conspiracies”, increased distrust of once relied upon news sources.
    In short, when looking at aberrant behavior, it often helps to examine the social psychological context which allows or promotes those behaviors.

    • Even though it seemed to me that Rich wasn’t soliciting examples to his point, ..(As long as a certain political faction continues to propagate lies that blame others…) it always helps the conversation toward breaking down the barriers of misunderstanding to do so! Thumbs up comment!

    • Anyone who thinks that a single political faction is responsible for the problems with society is deluding themselves.
      In fact, I think that our political problems are caused by culture, not the other way around.

  7. People have been indoctrinated with the principle “See Something, Say Something” and for good reason when the something has the suspicious appearance of potential harm. For the curious nosey passenger that could have been used as an ice breaker question to her fellow passenger…”Umm, Just curious, but what is that you’re fiddling with?” whence a conversation could have ensued and they could have enjoyed a laugh together when she says “Oh, I thought you might be making a bomb, LOL” On the other hand the “offending” male passenger could have resisted his presumably irresistible urge to fiddle with an odd looking device either in hand or perusing similar stuff on a laptop screen that might be misinterpreted as suspicious activity by glancing looks from a seat mate. It’s doubtful a lawsuit case will be brought by the offending male passenger because no lawyer with an ounce of brains will take the case knowing it will be thrown back in his/her face with a stern lecture from the bench about wasting the court’s time. On the other hand the carrier may offer compensation to all concerned.

    • The “curious passenger” has probably already convinced themselves that the device IS a bomb, and would be unlikely to ask what it is…
      The lady (unfortunately unable to know what a camera is), was correct to “see something, say something.” This has been drilled in to us for some time now. That’s what it has come to these days.
      I also think the flight crew should have had the intelligence to identify a camera.

  8. Dave, you’ve said a mouthful. I believe that most of our societal behavior is a result of individuals not knowing who they are. There is not enough focus, inclination or depth to examine oneself in the land of memes. Behavior is a result of thinking and beliefs–or the lack of development thereof.

  9. If someone can walk on an airplane with a pseudo-bomb in their shoe and carry-on chemicals in their bag, it wouldn’t take much of a stretch for someone to imagine an unfamiliar device is a bomb in disguise. While it appears to be all about nothing, hindsight is always much clearer than “in the moment” decision-making. After all, how many pilots do we read about that make stupid choices in the moment while all the arm-chair quarterbacks ridicule them after the fact in their easy chairs without the threat of death in their faces?

    Glad it all worked out as a non-event in the end. Could have been a completely different story.

  10. This story is as horrific as John and Martha King being detained at gunpoint because some idiot didn’t remove a once-stolen and subsequently destroyed airplane’s tail number from a database. There needs to be a mechanism for immediate correction of these errors, abject apologies to the victims, and prosecution of those responsible. That woman who initiated this should be banned from ever flying again, and, we should hope, bankrupted by the lawsuit that follows.

  11. To quote the entertainer Ron White: You can fix a lot of things in women, but YOU CAN’T FIX STUPID! And apparently that goes for both the female passenger and the FA. What the FA did was not following established procedures in evaluating and responding to a passenger comment.

  12. I agree that there were no bad intentions among the airline personnel involved – lack of judgement on the cabin crew for not properly evaluating the situation, before pressing the red button – certainly! What if someone was injured during the unneeded e-slide trips? During the emergency landing? During the arrest?

    The fellow should sue the passenger, the FA, American, NYFD, JTTF , FBI, and the Port Authority PD for their actions. Also this was a false arrest – which is criminal, correct?

    This was a mistake for all involved – except the poor guy who likes to look at old cameras.
    As such, actions have consequences, regardless of good intentions.

    Judgements will be the only defense against this type of behavior – our outrage against this, the Kings’ arrest, the sailplane pilot flying around a nuke power plant will not change behavior.

    The statement from the Port Authority spokesman had not one hint of apology towards the passenger.