COMOX VALLEY, B.C. - About 150 passengers were spending the night in area hotels after a bomb threat forced a Korean Airlines Boeing 777 to divert to Vancouver Island.
Authorities were continuing to search the aircraft early Wednesday and the RCMP said nothing suspicious had yet been found.
The flight, with 149 passengers on board, was travelling from Vancouver to Seoul when it was diverted to CFB Comox under the escort of two U.S. fighter jets.
The Canadian Forces said in a news release that the plane was diverted at about 5:30 p.m. PT, and all emergency services at the base were activated.
Korean Air said a U.S. call centre received the threat about 25 minutes after the flight took off from Vancouver. The airline said after discussion with the related departments they decided to turn the aircraft around.<
Korean Air spokeswoman Penny Pfaelzer said from Los Angeles that the caller warned that an explosive was on board the aircraft but had no additional details.<
RCMP Inspector Bryon Massie said everyone on board the aircraft were taken from the base and housed in local hotels.
“The passengers and crew have all been taken to hotels within the Courtenay-Comox area and they’ve been accommodated for the evening,” he said.
Massie said that to his knowledge, nothing suspicious had yet been found.
”The investigation is ongoing, police resources are still at the scene.”
A Korean Air official said earlier that the airline “is conducting a safety inspection now and will evaluate a new departure time after discussion.”<
Massie said Korean Airlines was looking at a ”contingency plan of bringing in a second aircraft” to take the passengers to their destination.
Two American fighter jets escorted the plane back to Comox shortly after it left Vancouver International Airport.
“It was two F-15s from Portland, Ore. that conducted the intercept,” said Maj. Holly Apostoliuk from Winnipeg.<
Within the North American Aerospace Defence Command agreement, NORAD can deploy the appropriate fighters to respond to a situation, and in this case those were the most appropriate aircraft, said Apostoliuk.
With a population of about 12,000 people, Comox is located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, about 180 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.
"From time to time planes do get diverted here for weather reasons," said Comox Mayor Paul Ives. "But this is the first time in a long time I would imagine that we’ve had this kind of diversion."
Ives said the base’s 3,000-metre-long airstrip is the longest on Canada’s west coast outside of Vancouver and serves the military and a civilian airport.<
Comox resident Richard Warrington said he went to the airport after hearing reports of the incident.<
Warrington, who is a professional photographer, said he saw the plane parked at the north end of the runway.<
Emergency vehicles were nearby, said Warrington, adding no chutes were deployed on the plane but a front-left door was open and officials were going in and out of the plane.
Several buses were also nearby, said Warrington.
One of his photos shows what appears to be two men standing by the plane’s door, one of them wearing a bullet-proof vest.
“Comox is pretty small,” the 41-year-old said. “I haven’t seen that many vehicles down that direction in a long time. People are hearing about it and driving down, and we’ll be talking about it for a week.”
Korean Air is one of several Asian airlines that have been scrambling in recent days to change the flight paths for many routes to avoid a rocket North Korea says it will launch later this week.
Pyongyang says the rocket will carry a satellite into space, but the United States, Britain, Japan and others have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, saying it would be considered a violation of UN resolutions prohibiting the country from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.