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MailTribune.com
  • Rogue Valley runner on flight delayed when 'suspicious' passengers removed

  • A Jacksonville woman who finished the Boston Marathon just minutes before the two bombs exploded endured a stressful flight back to the Rogue Valley.
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  • A Jacksonville woman who finished the Boston Marathon just minutes before the two bombs exploded endured a stressful flight back to the Rogue Valley.
    Dana Pabst, a North Medford High School teacher, was aboard a United Flight from Boston to Chicago Tuesday when two men were removed for what passengers said was "suspicious activity."
    The men, aboard United Flight 636, were questioned by authorities and returned to the plane, only to be removed again after at least one passenger complained, passengers said after they arrived at O'Hare International Airport.
    It's unclear whether the questioning had any connection with Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon. The Boston Globe reported that the two passengers were later booked on a different flight.
    "It was scary when it was happening," said Pabst, now back home in Jacksonville. "The flight was mostly marathon runners, so it wasn't a very happy group because the previous day was so horrible."
    Pabst said some of the passengers became nervous because the men were not speaking English and one of them had a bandaged hand.
    After the authorities removed the men, a stewardess told passengers to keep an eye on the men and report any suspicious behavior.
    Pabst was not sure where the men were from or what had brought them to the United States.
    "It was intimidating because they took them off and then put them back on again," Pabst said. "No one knew what was happening."
    Spokesmen for the airport, Massachusetts State Police and the airline declined comment.
    Boston Marathon finisher Matt Pomeroy, 34, and his wife Elizabeth, 33, said all seemed calm until a federal agent and a Massachusetts police officer walked onto the plane and removed two male passengers.
    "The two men were taken off the plane for about 15 minutes," said Matt Pomeroy, of Johnson Creek, Wis. "They were then allowed back on but started to act suspicious."
    Passenger Rich Siok, 31, of Elk Grove, Ill., said he didn't initially notice the two men - one of whom was in his row. To him, they looked like "average citizens."
    However Siok, who also finished the marathon Monday, said he and others began to notice the men's behavior after they were allowed back on the plane. The men, who were rows apart, began talking in a foreign language and using head and hand gestures to communicate, he said.
    "It was very nerve-wracking being on the flight," Siok said. "Everyone was already nervous that they were getting back on because we didn't know what was going on."
    Elizabeth Pomeroy said the two men seemed "jittery and jumpy" and were "acting suspicious."
    "They were talking to each other across the rows — that doesn't normally happen," Matt Pomeroy said.
    Siok said passengers around him began stirring while watching the two men communicate. As the plane approached the runway, Siok said he pressed the flight attendant call button.
    "I told the flight crew, 'I don't feel comfortable with this.' And they felt the same exact way," Siok said.
    At the gate, multiple FBI agents and police officers boarded the plane and escorted the two men off, Matt Pomeroy said. The passengers deplaned for another check.
    Siok said the atmosphere on the plane after the men were removed was "relieved."
    "Many of the marathon runners on the plane didn't have places to be today," Siok said. "You know, it's better safe than sorry."
    Pabst was then placed on the same plane with the two men and was even seated next to them on the flight to San Francisco.
    She spoke with the men as the plane was in the air. She described them as looking "defeated."
    "After talking to them, I found out they were on their way to Las Vegas, maybe to gamble," Pabst said. "They seemed really excited to be going to Las Vegas. They were nice guys."
    Mail Tribune reporter Chris Conrad contributed to this story, which originated as a report by Bridget Doyle of the Chicago Tribune.
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