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Authorities: Flight not returned to nab fugitive

By Yang Jian (Shanghai Daily)

08:07, August 31, 2012

AUTHORITIES yesterday denied an online claim that an Air China flight returned to Beijing on Wednesday night to thwart a corrupt official's flee attempt. The airline earlier attributed the return to a "threat" and then said they found nothing abnormal.

There was no corrupt official onboard the aircraft and it flew back after receiving a tip from the United States, airport police and the country's flagship carrier said yesterday.

"The information came from a US intelligence agency, but it was not prudent to disclose any further details," said Xu Yanchun, an official with Air China's Beijing headquarters.

More than 200 police were dispatched to make two rounds of security checks on each of the 325 passengers after the plane landed in Beijing, the police told Legal Evening News.

The Boeing 747 - flight CA981- returned and landed at Beijing Capital International Airport around 8:30pm on Wednesday, about eight hours after it had set off for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Air China issued an announcement shortly after, saying "the flight was returned to Beijing for the sake of passenger safety as it received a threatening message."

However, some people online claimed the pilots flew back after receiving an order from air traffic controllers that a corrupt official carrying a huge sum of money was found to be onboard.

The rumor arose after the airport authority said later in the day that nothing abnormal was found after passengers were checked. Passengers were not told the aircraft was returning until it landed.

Internet users also questioned why the aircraft had not landed at the nearest airport, such as in Hawaii, after receiving a threat but instead returned to Beijing.

"The crew members did not tell the passengers the truth in the air to avoid causing any panic," another Air China official said.

There was no airport that could accommodate the wide-body Boeing 747 aircraft on its way back, the official added.

The flight took off again at 12:30am to take passengers to their destination. The carrier changed pilots and crew members to ensure the safety of the passengers because they had been tired after flying for eight hours, the official added. The aircraft finally landed at John F. Kennedy airport after flying for another 12 hours.

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