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Source: Call about hijackers spurred JFK planes' search

An American Airlines and Fin Air plane were

An American Airlines and Fin Air plane were investigated at JFK Airport. (Sept. 17, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

The telephone call that sparked Port Authority police and the FBI to search three planes for bombs Monday at Kennedy Airport started with a caller saying hijackers had boarded aircraft by way of the wheel wells, a source said Tuesday.

A male caller stated that the hijackers had gas masks to stay alive during the flight and that they were members of an Islamic group. The caller also stated that at least one of the hijackers had a bomb in a backpack, the source said.

Investigators eventually boarded an American Airlines flight from San Francisco and a Finnair flight from Helsinki after the planes landed Monday. Police also inspected a third plane, an American Airlines flight from Chicago. The searches of all three planes turned up nothing suspicious.

The call describing the security threat came to Port Authority police just before 3 p.m. Monday.

The FBI continued investigating the case Tuesday, and were checking for any possible links to other cases of recent threatening calls made to colleges and universities. Campuses in Texas, North Dakota and Ohio were evacuated Friday after receiving bomb threats, but police found no explosives. Louisiana State University officials Monday evacuated their campus after receiving a bomb threat.

"FBI agents are working with local authorities to establish the facts of each case," said Supervisory Special Agent Jason Pack, an FBI spokesman.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he has been told by federal law enforcement officials that there has been a significant uptick in phony bomb threats over the past few months and that investigators are looking for a connection. But so far none have been established, he said.

Meanwhile, the website posted recordings about the conversation between the pilot of the plane from San Francisco, American Flight 24, and an air traffic controller at Kennedy Airport. Controllers held the plane in an isolated section of the airport after it landed Monday for the bomb inspection.

The pilot can be heard demanding to know why controllers had instructed his aircraft to sit on the tarmac without explanation.

The controller can be heard saying that her supervisors were on the telephone trying to get information about the situation.

"They need to get off the phone and give me some information, now," the pilot said. "I'm the captain of this airliner and I need information pronto.

"We're surrounded by emergency vehicles," the pilot stated. "There's a reason for this. You've got to give us the reason or we're going to evacuate the aircraft. You've got 60 seconds."

Later, an air traffic controller states that someone would approach the aircraft to inspect it.

With Anthony DeStefano

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