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Vermont Pro Tem discusses being on a Burlington-bound plane that received a threat

Vermont state Senator Phil Baruth
Wayne Fawbush
Vermont Legislature
Vermont state Senate Pro Tem Phil Baruth

Law enforcement agencies continue to investigate after they say a threat was made on a United Airlines flight Sunday night bound for Burlington, Vermont. Police say the threat was made on United Airlines flight 3613, which took off from Newark, New Jersey. Officials say that about 20 minutes before landing at Burlington International Airport, the pilot was made aware of a threat found inside of a bathroom on the plane. The pilot notified Air Traffic Control officers, prompting a massive emergency response at the airport, which was closed for several hours. Police say law enforcement found no credible threat on the aircraft. There were no injuries and no one has been arrested. Vermont state Senate Pro Tem Phil Baruth was on the flight. He spoke with WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley:

As is common in these situations, we were told what we needed when we needed it. So, you know at first we didn't know we were the problem, that our plane was the target of all of this activity at the airport. We thought that it was due to something that had happened before we landed and didn't have to do with us. And then, as we sat there on the tarmac for a couple of hours, it became clear that as we got little updates and as the emergency personnel moved closer to us, it became obvious that we were the focus. And then eventually, I think it was the State Police came on and said that they were going to go through with bomb sniffing dogs and that there had been a note with a threat to the airplane found, and they had radioed the ground and what we were seeing was all a response to that note,

You and the rest of the passengers had no idea and didn't realize there was a problem for the plane itself until after you had landed?

Right. Right. So again, we thought it was to do with another plane, and that the emergency vehicles were just in the way of our plane. Initially and we were waiting for them to clear our path. But then as the updates came through it was obvious that there was a potential threat on our plane. Once we learned that things moved pretty quickly. They, again, had dogs come through the plane. And then when we were taken to a hangar they had us sequenced as we walked and they had the dogs sort of moving in and out between us and sniffing everyone individually. And then in the hangar, we were told about what little they would tell us about the note and also about the length and the nature of the response. So Homeland Security, FBI, bomb squad, South Burlington Police, Burlington Police, airport police, every, every uniformed person you could pretty much think of.

Did you get a sense if the passengers, or even you, were worried or scared as you realized the depth of what was happening?

Well, I will say we had already landed and so you didn't have that feeling of being in the air. So I think it was a good call not to tell people while we were in the air. And then once we were on the ground, once we were told, we were out of the plane within about 15 minutes. So there wasn't a lot of time on the plane, which is, you know, if there was a device aboard, that's where the danger would have been. But I will say there were a lot of kids on the plane, you know, of all ages and I'm sure those parents were terrified.

Yeah. Did anybody say anything about when the note was found? Or, you know, they said it was found in the bathroom? Do you know if that's accurate too?

You know, I don't know for sure. I had a sense from listening to people's conversation because, you know, conversation starts to run rampant as people scroll around on their phones. And so different pieces of information came forward. I did hear someone say that a note had been found in the bathroom on the plane. But that was from someone who wasn't an official just a passenger, so no way to know for sure.

You also said that they took you to a hangar with the bomb sniffing dogs checking you, I want to say marched over there.

Yeah, that's kind of what it was like!

What was the process in the hangar? I mean, is this something where they were very intensely focused on you and the passengers or were they more focused on the plane?

Well, I'd say there was two things. So once we were all in the hangar, it was mostly about giving us information. They gave us some water and a snack if you were hungry. But, you know, it was the area behind the luggage carousels where they load in the luggage, but basically a big open hanger. And it dawned on me about halfway through the little briefing we were getting that there were a whole lot of police at one end and a whole lot of police on the other end. And, you know, we were contained I would say in the same way that the plane was contained. Which makes sense when you think that they don't know if the person who wrote the note is in the group and they don't know if the person who wrote the note is a danger. So you realized after a while that we were being scrutinized as well as the plane and the bags.

What do you make of the overall response for this incident? I mean, you know, you're fairly high level in in Vermont government. This has got to be a little bit unique for you. But what do you make of the response at Burlington International?

I think they did a fantastic job. You know, they're presented with what seems to be an imminent threat. They can't just blow it off. They have to treat it at the highest level, partially because it's happening in the air in real time. So they got a call from the plane while it was still above Vermont. So I appreciated everything they did. It was all well thought out. And I think in terms of the passengers and what we all had to go through, it was obviously stressful, but much less so because of the way they handled it. So I appreciated that.

And how are you now that you've had basically only a few hours really to decompress after experiencing something like this?

I'm fine. But you know my traveling days are over for a few months so I'm kind of glad about that.

Vermont state Senate Pro Tem Phil Baruth speaking with WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley. Baruth was a passenger on Sunday’s United Airlines flight into Burlington, Vermont, which was subject to an emergency investigation upon landing to due to what authorities said was a non-credible threat.