By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2006 – Two Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15 fighter jets scrambled today to escort a Washington-bound United Airlines flight to Boston's Logan National Airport, a U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman confirmed. NORAD ordered the unit to scramble the aircraft, based at Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass., after receiving a "domestic event network call" on the aviation security hotline that links the command to the Department of Homeland Security and other U.S. aviation security organizations, Mike Kucherak said.
The call followed an incident aboard United Airlines Flight 923, originally scheduled to fly from London Heathrow to Washington Dulles International Airport. A disruptive passenger with hand cream and matches caused officials to call for an emergency landing, Transportation Security Agency officials confirmed. The two jets intercepted the aircraft, escorted it to Boston, where it landed without incident, then returned to Otis, Kucherak said.
Today's incident occurred less than a week after the arrest of several suspects in the United Kingdom who allegedly were involved in a plot to blow up airlines bound for the United States. "We continue to monitor the situation and remain vigilant," Maj. Gen. William G. Webster, director of operations for U.S. Northern Command, said last week of U.S. Northern Command's and NORAD's roles in maintaining situational awareness and ensuring an ability to respond rapidly if required.
Kucherak said today's escort mission demonstrates the rapid response capability provided since Operation Noble Eagle was launched immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, to protect the homeland. In less than five years, NORAD has flown more than 42,000 sorties and scrambled or diverted aircraft more than 2,100 times, he said. Operation Noble Eagle includes regular overflights from bases around the country that monitor the skies and air crews that remain on alert, ready to launch jets in response to a threat, if needed. "We are ready to respond at a moment's notice," Kucherak said.
Today's mission also exemplifies the "great cooperation" between the Department of Defense and Air National Guard in ensuring Operation Noble Eagle's success, he said. The National Guard flies more than 70 percent of all Operation Noble Eagle missions.