Published: Tuesday, August 15, 2006
A suspicious package found in an aircraft washroom on a flight from Chicago on Tuesday afternoon brought out Ottawa police canine and bomb-disposal units.
A member of the crew found the package about 4 p.m.
The plane landed safely and was isolated away from the terminal.
Passengers were taken off the plane and questioned by police while experts investigated the 'package.'
The airport was not closed during the three-hour incident.
Police issued a statement Tuesday evening saying the suspicious package 'has been identified as an electronic devicde commonly known as an iPod.'
But it's sorta funny when they get mistaken for bombs. It's even more interesting when you get to read about the whole story from the key person's point of view.
It all started when I got out of my seat to go to the bathroom. I went to the bathroom, washed my hands, and returned to my seat. A little while later the two stewardesses on the flight crossed each other in the aisle. They had a quick conversation that I was in earshot of.
"I locked off the front lav. There's something in the toilet that's preventing it from flushing. Run some water and see if you can clear it." My face immediately turned red. The seat cover! I thought. It must have been too big to flush! I should have thrown it out!
I was so embarrassed. I tried to act normal ... I took a sudden interest in the contents of the seat pocket in front of me, acted nonchalant and all. I watched as the stewardess got on her hands and knees in the lavatory and did unfathomable dirty work.
Sometime later, I decided it would be best if I forgot the whole thing happened, so I went to put on my headphones and drown myself in iPod music. But ... no iPod. I panicked, checked my other pockets. Where was it? Not under the seat, not in the pockets, not ... anywhere. I looked up to the stewardesses. One of them had run past me in a decent clip. She was carrying a green handbook. She brought it to the other stewardess. They flipped through the handbook, read a page, then made a call. The other stewardess had retrieved a blue metal box and was removing some equipment from it.
I put two and two together. I knew what had happened.
So I walked up to the stewardesses, both clamoring over the handbook, and tapped one on the shoulder.
"So, I had an iPod before I went to the bathroom, and now I don't. I think I know what's in the toilet."
We had a quick conversation. I told them, "You don't have to call the TSA or anything, it's just my iPod." They said, "Oh, but we already did."
So now I'm starting to realize that this is turning into a big problem. They offer their condolences, tell me that it's unfortunate, and I take a seat. Okay. So far, not so bad. I return to my seat and spend the rest of the flight trying to act normal.
That is, right up until the pilot comes over the intercom.
"Folks, this is the captain. I don't want to alarm you, but we've found a suspicious device in the front lavatory. Now, we think it's probably nothing, but in this day and age ... you can never be too careful. We'll be landing at Ottawa, where we will await further instructions."
The cabin erupted with commotion. At that very moment, my face fell into my hands. What have I done?
We landed at Ottawa, and we were taxiing to the gate. Without warning, the airplane then lurched to a sudden halt.
"Folks, this is the captain. We've been ordered to make an immediate stop. Buses are coming to evacuate the aircraft." We were to leave all of our belongings on the aircraft; we would be shuttled by bus to the terminal, where we would receive our carryon items.
My face fell deeper into my hands. Next came the waiting. Waiting and listening to more worry and commotion. A lot of us wondered if we could bring cell phones, wallets, passports, or customs forms with us. The stewardesses didn't have any answers; they had never been through this before.
On the one hand, if I brought a cell phone, wallet, etc. etc., and they confiscated it, I would have to hunt and peck for it separately from my carryon luggage. But if I stuck all of that stuff in my carryon luggage, I would only have to find one bag when we clamored for our stuff in the future. I decided the smart thing to do was to stick everything in my carryon. But, I kept my wallet, because I knew I was in big trouble at this point.
It took them 45 minutes to round up not just a bus and air-stairs, but an army of police and customs vehicles. One of the stewardesses took me aside and whispered to me. "Get off the plane last, and talk to the constable."
So I did. I exited the plane last, and spoke to the Ottawa police officer waiting at the air-stairs. I told him that the device was my iPod, and he took down my license number.
I continued to the bus. After a brief wait, it did NOT take us to the terminal. It took us to some industrial facility, where they housed utility vehicles. There, in the open garage, we were instructed to sit and wait. And wait we did ... another 30 minutes or so.
This was possibly the worst part ... While we were waiting I got to overhear the passengers talking about me. Well, they didn't know it was me, but they knew someone had dropped an iPod in the toilet, and they made aaallll sorts of assumptions about this person.
"Why didn't he have it on a clip? He could have clipped it to his damn pants." Or, "Why didn't he tell the stewardesses? Why is he hiding it from them and making us go through this?"
I could have corrected them. I could have told them that it WAS on a clip and I DID tell the stewardesses. In fact, it was a lot of self-restraint to just keep my mouth shut and not make things worse.
By this time the sense of guilt had left me. This wasn't my fault. Anyone could have dropped his stupid iPod in the toilet. It's really the government here. I mean, at this point the building contained six customs officials, an army of policemen, people from various security agencies, a bomb squad, and a couple of detectives. No one was doing anything. No one was taking charge. *I* didn't create this mess.
The whole time, the officers were watching me. They had told me to keep in sight of them at all times.
Finally, five or six customs officers set up a table and made an announcement. "We will be interviewing each of you one by one. Please form a line. Before we have our chat, make sure you have your ID, passport, and customs information with you."
One person asked, "What if that stuff is still on the plane?" The customs official responded, "Then we will have a more formal chat."
I got in line with the rest of the people, but shortly thereafter two police officers took me out of line. "Come with us."
They took me to a discreet corner. They brought out a tape recorder. I was told to put my hands up on the wall and spread my legs, and I was frisked from head to toe. They removed my wallet, disassembled it completely, and placed each of its contents in its own plastic evidence bag.
"Now Tim, for the sake of the tape recorder, I want you to state your full name and address." I did. "Now, each of us will state our name and position into the tape recorder." There were two detectives from the police department, a detective from Customs, and two members of the bomb squad.
Then started the questions. They were easy at first. They asked me where I lived. What do I do for a living? Why am I unemployed? How come it's taken me 4 months to find a job?
They asked me why I was visiting Canada. I was to visit a friend I met on World of Warcraft, Cara. They took down her name and what I could remember of her address. They asked me how we met.
"In an online game."
"What online game?"
"Umm ... World of Warcraft," I responded meekly.
"What kind of game is this?"
"It's a fantasy game ... it takes place online."
"Fantasy ... like it's got wizards and warlocks?"
"Well, it's got warlocks." (And they need to be nerfed.)
They asked me to describe my relation to Cara. I told them that people meet up in the game and go on adventures together, and that Cara and I were in a guild together that I was the leader of. They confused the concept of a guild with the game, however, and I had them believing that I was the Lord and Leader of all of WoW until I was able to correct them, and explain to them what a guild was.
So, when they put the pieces together; namely, that I was visiting a female person that I had met over a computer game, their next line of questioning went down an obvious path.
"So you and Cara are friends?"
"How long have you known her?"
"About 5 months I think? Maybe less."
"Do you have a romantic relationship with Cara?"
"Do you want a romantic relationship with Cara?"
"OK, so ... if you and Cara were drunk together, and she turned to you and said, 'Tim, let's go--'"
I interrupted him. "Excuse me ... what's the point of these questions?" The detective hardened. "Let me make things clear. I ask questions. You answer them. Do we have an understanding?"
"Yes." I paused. "I just don't see how this is relevant."
He spoke right in my face. "I've got 5 good men going into that airplane right now. Five of my best bomb squad guys. If there is any reason that I should be concerned for their life, then I need to know now. So just answer the questions, and do as I say."
Now the questions became really pointed. What do you think about 9/11? What are your views on the Iran issue? Do you think government is too big, too powerful? Would you ever "make a point?"
He asked me if I knew how to make a bomb. "I have a degree in physics, and I'm not an idiot." Of course I knew how to make a bomb -- what kind of question is that?? The better question is, WOULD I make a bomb? The answer is no.
They tried to trap me with some of their questions. I noticed they would try to get me to contradict myself. Like, I had earlier mentioned that I had never met Cara in real life, so they would later nonchalantly ask me when I had last seen Cara. Stuff like that.
He told me there was a similar bomb scare in LA today. He asked me if I was connected with it. He asked me if I was connected to the "liquid" thing from Britain.
Finally, he was done. He and the two bomb squad guys left. The customs lady followed up with more prying personal questions. She asked me more about Cara, how I got to know her, how we interact, etc.
The interviewers would periodically withdraw to talk about me in French, then return with followup questions. I was picked apart by these questions. They wanted to know how I could pay for my ticket, being unemployed, and what my motivations for visiting Cara were. They had me on the defensive the whole time.
She had finished her interview and I was then returned to the garage where they were questioning everyone else on the plane, one by one. I waited for another hour or so as the bomb squad did their thing (I assume). Eventually, they loaded everyone up on the bus to take them to retrieve their stuff. Except me -- I and two others were to be inspected by Customs.
They took my photo, asked me to wait in the cold for 30 minutes, and then escorted me to a red van. Along the way I passed the detective who had first interviewed me. He was carrying a green paper bag. He called me over.
"I just got it back from the bomb squad. It's an iPod. Do you want it back?"
"It's been in the toilet."
"Yeah, it's messy." Then he walked right up to my ear. "Tim, you're not in any trouble anymore. Nothing you say now is going to be on record. I want you to answer a question honestly, just for me, not for my agency."
He whispered into my ear. "Did you ... did you take a dump, and then drop your iPod in the toilet on accident?"
"No!" I yelled a little too loudly. "Like I said ... I didn't notice it was missing until after!"
"OK, OK. I believe you. You did great, Tim."
I got my wallet back and was escorted by police to the van. I waited some more on this van, and finally it took me to a harmless immigration office. I waited some more there, the whole time being watched and followed by police officers. Finally, they escorted me to the baggage claim to fetch my stuff, and took me to a very private room with some bomb-screening equipment and tinted mirrors for windows.
It was me and a gruff, humorless customs official. He unpacked my luggage entirely, ran the contents of my wallet through a bomb sweep, and carefully examined all of my belongings. He then asked me to turn on my laptop. I did, and he began using it. I saw him open Spotlight and begin searching.
"Do you connect to the Internet on this laptop?"
"Have you downloaded and images?"
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Do you have any pornography?"
I waited in total silence for about 10 minutes as he kept searching and searching, until I finally asked him, "What are you looking for?"
"Contraband," he said without looking up at me.
"Child pornography, hate propaganda."
"Child porn I can understand, that's illegal. But hate propaganda is protected speech."
Now he looked up. "What country do you think you're in?"
"Oh, it's illegal in Canada?"
"I honestly don't know. But that doesn't matter. I get to decide what goes in this country. Do you have a problem with that?"
I paused for a long time while I thought about what I should say to this. "Yes."
"Yes, you do have a problem?"
"Yes, I do. If it's illegal in Canada I'll understand, but saying 'I don't want it in my country' isn't good enough when you're a government official."
Now he was pissed. "Don't fool around with me. I'm sure you want this to end as much as I do. So I will ask you questions, and you will answer. Do you understand?"
Another long pause while I thought. "Yes, I do."
He continued his exhaustive audit of my computer's contents, then returned it to me. We waited for a Customs escort, who showed me out of the room and back to the terminal. There they left me without saying a word, and I was free to go.
I found Cara and Andy, and my vacation in Canada began.