Minneapolis Flight Crew Declared Emergency Because a Passenger Had a Gun. He Was an Air Marshal

Minneapolis St Paul Airport
Minneapolis St Paul Airport where the flight that declared an emergency landed safely. Flight crew saw what they thought was a passenger with a gun but he was an air marshal. Google Maps

A Minneapolis-bound flight declared an emergency after a member of the crew saw what they thought was a passenger with a gun. But it was no ordinary passenger—it was a federal air marshal. The incident is now under investigation.

The drama took place aboard Republic Airline Flight 3531 from Newark Liberty International, New Jersey, to Minneapolis St Paul, Minnesota. The plane landed safely just after midnight Tuesday, delayed by 50 minutes.

Social media talk among flight watchers suggested an air marshal had shown his weapon to a member of the crew. According to the Twitter user @AviationFlyer, air traffic control audio for the flight shows an emergency declared "due to suspicious behavior as the air marshal violated Standard Operating Procedures."

"A federal air marshal on official business onboard a flight was mistaken for a passenger by a flight attendant," the Transport Security Administration told Newsweek in a statement.

"Protocols for notification of law enforcement presence aboard an aircraft are in place to avoid incidents like this. TSA is working with the airline to determine the specific circumstances in this case."

"The FBI is investigating an incident involving a federal air marshal aboard the flight, so I need to defer to them," Patrick Hohan, director of public affairs at the Metropolitan Airports Commission in Minneapolis, told Newsweek by email.

A call to the F.B.I. spokesperson for the Minneapolis field office went unanswered. Republic Airline did not respond to a request for comment.

Federal air marshals are armed, plain-clothed and sit on passenger flights. They are there to protect passengers and crew from criminals and terrorists.

Elsewhere the Federal Air Marshal Service is facing calls for an investigation by members of Congress after allegations of racial profiling and the use of a racial slur, FOX 46 reported.

Three Democratic members of the House Committee on Homeland Security wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General John Kelly.

"The allegations are extremely troubling, especially given the history of allegations regarding misconduct, discrimination, and retaliation within the Federal Air Marshal Service [FAMS]," says the letter, signed by Rep. Bennie Thompson, Rep. Val Demings and Rep. Bonnie Coleman.

"We have long been concerned that the policies of the TSA, which oversees the FAMS, open the door to racial profiling and other forms of discrimination.

"For the TSA to earn the trust of the American public, non-discrimination policies must be fully enforced, allegations of misconduct must be fully investigated, and substantiated misconduct must be remedied by corrective action."