PORTLAND - Oregon Air National Guard jet fighters roared to Canadian air space Tuesday afternoon to turn back and escort a threatened Korean Air jetliner.
Two F-15s were scrambled from the Portland Airbase after Canadian authorities received what they called a credible bomb threat. The threat came by phone to the Korean Air office in Los Angeles about 25 minutes after the plane left the Vancouver International Airport at 4 p.m. for Seoul, Korea.
NORAD reported that the Portland jets were dispatched shortly after the threat was received. The F-15 pilots' mission was to intercept, divert and escort the Korean Air jetliner to Canadian Forces Base Comex on Vancouver Island.
The two Portland-based jets successfully brought Korean Air Flight 72 to the military base where it landed safely around 5:30 p.m. The Boeing 777, with 149 passengers on board, was searched for explosives, but none were found.
The F-15s were scrambled from Portland because they were the NORAD planes closest to the incident. A 142nd Fighter Wing Air National Guard spokeswoman said the two F-15s have returned safely to the Portland airbase.
Retired United Airlines pilot Jim Hummel told KGW that a pilot faces a touchy situation in a case like this, when informing the passengers.
"You don’t know how the passengers are going to react," said Hummel, who also was a military pilot. "So more than likely, they told the passengers they had a problem with the airport and they would divert for safety reasons to wherever they ended up going."
The airline pilots also have to begin procedures to prepare for an unexpected loss of cabin pressure.
Hummel added that the F-15 pilots were most definitely prepared for anything.
"When something this real comes up, I mean they train for it all the time," he said, "but having been in the Air Force, and sitting alert in an airplane, when a real thing comes down it really gets the adrenaline going and that’s what they train for. So they were all hyped-up for it I’m sure."