DFW AIRPORT (CBSDFW.COM) – The man at the center of a hoax that forced a Dallas-bound plane to return to Philadelphia on Thursday was arrested when he finally made it to Dallas hours later.
Christopher Shell was being held on a warrant from an area agency, according to DFW police. Online court records in Collin County show he failed to show up for a court appearance in January on two misdemeanor charges for marijuana possession in McKinney. Shell is being held at Dallas County Jail.
The arrest came hours after Shell was released from custody in Philadelphia, following a phone call that claimed he had a dangerous substance on his flight.
While most people did not find out about the phone threat until their aborted and delayed flight arrived at DFW International Airport, the call sent anti-terrorist units in Philadelphia into overdrive less than a week before the anniversary of September 11. “The FBI came from the back of the plane and we were all shocked,” passenger Lisa Flanagan recalled after arriving at DFW Airport.
Passenger David Pirestas described an even more frightening situation. “They had their Uzis out, their pistols, and they came to a passenger and said, ‘Don’t move! Stay put!’ And then they took him off the plane.”
One man said Shell, who turned 29 on Thursday, acted “stunned” and began asking what was going on. According to CBS News, an ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend phoned in a phony liquid bomb threat as the jet took off. The plane was turned around, with the pilot telling passengers there was a mechanical problem.
New Jersey passenger Gowri Vembu said, “We never had a clue, thought it was a fire issue or something like that.”
Shell had been seated next to Steve McNeal during the aborted flight. “He didn’t make any comments or say anything out of the ordinary,” McNeal recalled. “[He] talked about what he did for a living and where he worked. He said he dropped out of college.”
According to his Facebook page, Shell originally believed the flight was turned around for technical problems. Family members in Bedford were able to talk to him on the phone after he spoke to the FBI. They were still planning a birthday party for him in Bedford for Thursday night, but then that turned to figuring out how to get him out of jail. “We used to always joke around, he’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Shell’s sister, Kristie Mangrum. “It may not have anything do to with him. It always seems like he gets in the middle something. It just ends up being chaotic.”
The two people accused of calling in the original hoax are now the focus of an FBI probe, according to Philadelphia police. The individual that placed the call could face federal charges. “It’s just incredibly foolish and irresponsible thing to do, and the bottom line is it’s criminal,” Philadelphia Police Department Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan said.
Sullivan also said that the call was a “nasty trick.”
The 69 passengers and five crew members aboard the plane were removed and screened. The plane was also screened and cleared after no explosives were found, and passengers re-boarded the plane and left for Texas. One passenger arriving at DFW Airport at 2:00 p.m. did not know that the aborted flight was caused by a hoax until reporters told him. He said, hoax or not, with all the guns and dogs, it was very real.
Before his arrest in Dallas, Shell was using his Facebook page after the incident to offer interviews to the highest bidder.
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