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Man charged in hoax that diverted plane

By Peter Mucha, The Philadelphia Inquirer –

PHILADELPHIA — A 26-year-old Philadelphia man faces federal charges for making false threats Thursday that led to a US Airways flight turning around and a passenger being searched and detained.

Kenneth W. Smith Jr. allegedly was angered over a “compromising’ photo the passenger, Christopher Shell, posted on his Facebook page of Smith’s current — and Shell’s former — girlfriend.

Federal officials say Smith called authorities from a pay phone about 7:20 a.m. EDT Thursday to say that Shell, also of Philadelphia, intended to smuggle an explosive onto US Airways Flight 1267.

Smith admitted he made the call to Philadelphia Airport Police, using a false name, “George Michaels,” after discussing the plan with another person, who was not identified in a federal agent’s affidavit.

After taking off for Dallas and crossing most of Pennsylvania, the Airbus A-319 turned around and landed back at Philadelphia International Airport.

Shell was searched and taken into custody for questioning, passengers were escorted off the aircraft, luggage was removed and screened, and the plane was searched with the help of bomb-sniffing dogs.

No explosives were found.

Shell told authorities he suspected his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend, Kenny, were behind the hoax, showing exchanges of “hostile” text messages with the ex-girlfriend, according to the affidavit by Special Agent David L. O’Brien of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Agents found Smith where Shell said he worked.

In Smith’s admissions, “he said that when he called, he used the term ‘liquid explosives,’’’ according to the affidavit.

After being released Thursday, his 29th birthday, Shell flew on to Texas, where he was arrested on outstanding warrants.

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