In-depth: Air marshal mishap led to concerns of possible hijacking at MSP control tower

December 04, 2018 09:11 AM

A mishap that led to a flight crew not being notified of the presence of two federal air marshals on board a United Airlines flight in August prompted concerns of a possible hijacking, according to a newly released report.

Through a public information request, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS obtained an incident report from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport police, which details the confusion aboard United Airlines flight 3531 from Newark to Minneapolis the night of Aug. 20.


Two armed federal air marshals were among the 64 passengers on United flight 3531.  However, neither the flight attendants nor the pilot were aware marshals had boarded the plane.

When one of the air marshals made his presence known, it sparked an emergency on board. 

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According to the incident report, a flight attendant told investigators she was sitting in the front gallery when a passenger approached and, "demanded to see the passenger manifest."

After telling him no, she said the passenger responded by saying, "didn't they tell you me and my partner (redacted) were on board?"


When the flight attendant asked for his credentials, she says he said "how about this for credentials," and then lifted up his shirt to reveal a handgun.

The flight attendant told police "her heart was racing and that she was scared" after seeing the weapon.

She notified the pilot who said he was, "unaware of any (federal air marshals) aboard the aircraft."

According to the report, the pilot told her, "to not create any suspicion until he could contact dispatch."

An air traffic controller told investigators the information they first received suggested a possible hijacking attempt.

That information, according to the incident report, indicated "a person on board the aircraft with a gun causing a disturbance, not breached the cockpit yet."

The flight attendant told investigators one of the air marshals got out of his seat to check his bag in the overhead compartments while the plane was still taxiing down the runway.  When she instructed him to sit down, the report states the air marshal refused to listen.  The marshal retrieved his Federal Air Marshal badge from his bag and showed it to the flight attendant.

Once the plane landed, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport police arrested and disarmed two men.

During questioning, the two presented their Federal Air Marshal identification cards, and they were subsequently released from custody.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to Republic Airlines, who was operating the flight for United Airlines, as well as the Transportation Security Administration. 

A TSA spokesperson issued the following statement:

TSA works closely with aviation partners to identify, correct and prevent disruptive incidents and ensure procedures are followed. Although we cannot comment on the specifics of this particular case, TSA has worked with all involved parties to ensure a similar incident does not happen again.

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Tim Vetscher

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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