Tedd Petruna's Terrorist Tale of AirTran Flight 297

Dry Run for Terrorists or Blueprint for a Hoax?

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A viral message circulating since 2009 and attributed to an AirTran Airways passenger named Tedd Petruna purports to be an eyewitness account of an Islamic terrorist "dry run" aboard AirTran Flight 297 from Atlanta to Houston on November 17, 2009. The airline denies the incident took place.

Original Email Message

Here's Petruna's alleged version of the events as forwarded to Gene Hackemack, who claims to be a friend of the message's author:

I, Gene Hackemack, received this email from my good friend Tedd Petruna, a diver at the NBL facility [Neutral Buoyancy Lab], at NASA Houston, whom I used to work with. Tedd happened to be on this same Flt. 297, Atlanta to Houston.
In my opinion, the muslims are all getting very brave now, since they have one of their own in the white house...... read Tedd's story below.
Semper Fi
Gene Hackemack
PS...can you imagine, our own news media now are so politically correct that they are afraid to report that these were all muslims... unbelievable. Thank God for people like Tedd Petruna.
A. Gene Hackemack
----- Original Message -----
From: Petruna, Tedd J.
One week ago, I went to Ohio on business and to see my father. On Tuesday, November the 17th, I returned home. If you read the papers the 18th you may have seen a blurb where a AirTran flight was cancelled from Atlanta to Houston due to a man who refused to get off of his cell phone before takeoff. It was on Fox.
This was NOT what happened.
I was in 1st class coming home. 11 Muslim men got on the plane in full attire. 2 sat in 1st class and the rest peppered themselves throughout the plane all the way to the back. As the plane taxied to the runway the stewardesses gave the safety spiel we are all so familiar with.. At that time, one of the men got on his cell and called one of his companions in the back and proceeded to talk on the phone in Arabic very loudly and very aggressively. This took the 1st stewardess out of the picture for she repeatedly told the man that cell phones were not permitted at the time. He ignored her as if she was not there.
The 2nd man who answered the phone did the same and this took out the 2nd stewardess. In the back of the plane at this time, 2 younger Muslims, one in the back, isle, and one in front of him, window, began to show footage of a porno they had taped the night before, and were very loud about it. Now... they are only permitted to do this prior to Jihad. If a Muslim man goes into a strip club, he has to view the woman via mirror with his back to her. (don’t ask me... I don’t make the rules, but I’ve studied)
The 3rd stewardess informed them that they were not to have electronic devices on at this time. To which one of the men said "shut up infidel dog!" She went to take the camcorder and he began to scream in her face in Arabic. At that exact moment, all 11 of them got up and started to walk the cabin. This is where I had had enough! I got up and started to the back where I heard a voice behind me from another Texan twice my size say "I got your back." I grabbed the man who had been on the phone by the arm and said "you WILL go sit down or you Will be thrown from this plane!" As I "led" him around me to take his seat, the fellow Texan grabbed him by the back of his neck and his waist and headed out with him.
I then grabbed the 2nd man and said, "You WILL do the same!" He protested but adrenaline was flowing now and he was going to go. As I escorted him forward the plane doors open and 3 TSA agents and 4 police officers entered. Me and my new Texan friend were told to cease and desist for they had this under control. I was happy to oblige actually. There was some commotion in the back, but within moments, all 11 were escorted off the plane. They then unloaded their luggage.
We talked about the occurrence and were in disbelief that it had happen, when suddenly, the door open again and on walked all 11!! Stone faced, eyes front and robotic (the only way I can describe it). The stewardess from the back had been in tears and when she saw this, she was having NONE of it! Being that I was up front, I heard and saw the whole ordeal.
She told the TSA agent there was NO WAY she was staying on the plane with these men. The agent told her they had searched them and were going to go through their luggage with a fine tooth comb and that they were allowed to proceed to Houston. The captain and co-captain came out and told the agent "we and our crew will not fly this plane!" After a word or two, the entire crew, luggage in tow, left the plane. 5 minutes later, the cabin door opened again and a whole new crew walked on.
Again... this is where I had had enough!!! I got up and asked "What the hell is going on!?!?" I was told to take my seat. They were sorry for the delay and I would be home shortly. I said "I’m getting off this plane". The stewardess sternly told me that she could not allow me to get off. (now I’m mad!) I said "I am a grown man who bought this ticket, who’s time is mine with a family at home and I am going through that door, or I’m going through that door with you under my arm!! But I am going through that door!!" And I heard a voice behind me say "so am I".
Then everyone behind us started to get up and say the same. Within 2 minutes, I was walking off that plane where I was met with more agents who asked me to write a statement. I had 5 hours to kill at this point so why the hell not. Due to the amount of people who got off that flight, it was cancelled. I was supposed to be in Houston at 6pm. I got here at 12:30am.
Look up the date. Flight 297 Atlanta to Houston.
If this wasn’t a dry run, I don’t know what one is. The terrorists wanted to see how TSA would handle it, how the crew would handle it, and how the passengers would handle it.
I’m telling this to you because I want you to know... The threat is real. I saw it with my own eyes...
- Tedd Petruna

Eyewitness Account or Urban Legend?

According to AirTran officials quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on December 5, 2009, airline records confirm Tedd J. Petruna was booked on Flight 297 but the connecting flight from Akron arrived too late for him to actually board the Houston-bound flight.

AirTran had previously taken issue with many of the specifics of Petruna's self-aggrandizing account, which the company describes as "an urban legend." Urban legend or not, the email contains no shortage of melodrama.

For instance, would a real Muslim terrorist—as opposed to, say, one you might see depicted in a Hollywood action picture, or a comic book—actually yell, "Shut up, infidel dog!" at a flight attendant? More to the point, would they do so during what was supposed to be an undercover "terrorist dry run?"

Probably not.

New Accounts Surface

Laura Armstrong of the Marietta Daily Journal provided two new pieces of information in her December 6, 2009 column, "The Curious Case of Air Tran Flight 297." First, she spoke with Tedd Petruna, who, while he admitted "taking artistic license with a couple of points," claims he was, in fact, on the plane and has a boarding pass to prove it.

Next, Armstrong interviewed another passenger on Flight 297, security expert Brent C. Brown, who backs up some, but not all, of Petruna's account, including the allegation that the "suspicious men" were belligerent and refused to sit down, creating tension and "chaos" aboard the plane. According to Armstrong, Brown described the passengers who chose to get off the plane when it returned to the gate as "traumatized."

Conflicting Versions of Events

Brown's observations are at odds with certain aspects of the airline's version of events while confirming several of the claims of another witness, Dr. Keith Robinson, a chaplain from Texas. Robinson wasn't aboard the flight when the fracas occurred but experienced its repercussions after boarding the plane when it returned to the gate. He noted a considerable degree of agitation and stress among the debarking crew and passengers, as well as those who stayed on the flight, which he took as an indication that something more serious had happened than the airline admits.

On the flip side, affidavits filed the day of the incident by all three flight attendants aboard Flight 297 describe problems they had dealing with a group of passengers described as "unruly" and "uncooperative," but there's no mention of men in "Muslim garb" shouting threats in Arabic or having physical confrontations with other passengers.

So, was the so-called "eyewitness" responsible for this viral email even on the plane? Did terrorists disrupt the flight, or was the disturbance much less sinister? Cellphone camera technology was certainly available when the incident took place in 2009, yet there is no photographic, video, or audio evidence to back up the text. Without surveillance footage for verification, the full details of the day's events may never be known.