Authorities are blaming a love triangle for a midair explosives scare that led to an aborted flight and a man being taken into custody twice in two states within about 12 hours.
The curious case of Christopher Shell began Thursday in Philadelphia, apparently triggered by a Facebook photo he posted of his ex-girlfriend and fueled by his feud with her and her new boyfriend. It ended Friday in Texas.
In that time, Philadelphia police recalled Shell’s Dallas-bound flight and marched him off the aircraft at gunpoint; Shell cleared his name; authorities arrested the new beau, Kenneth W. Smith Jr., on charges of making a hoax threat about Shell and explosives; and Shell was taken into custody again on drug charges when he finally reached Texas to celebrate his 29th birthday.
Both Shell and Smith posted bonds Friday in their respective cases. Shell declined to comment. Smith’s lawyer, Bill Brennan, described his client as “embarrassed” by the consequences of the alleged threat.
“My client is very, very sobered by the amount of attention this has received,” Brennan said after Smith’s initial appearance in federal court in Philadelphia. “He’s not very happy about it.”
Passengers weren’t very happy either when the scare rerouted US Airways Flight 1267 on Thursday. They were about 90 miles into their trip from Philadelphia to Dallas/Fort Worth when the aircraft turned around, allegedly due to technical problems.
After landing back at Philadelphia Airport, heavily armed law enforcement officers boarded the plane and removed Shell. During questioning, he told authorities of the romantic feud, which involved hostile text messages with his ex and encounters with Smith, according to a federal affidavit.
Shell gave officers the name of Smith’s workplace. And upon arrival, authorities said Smith acknowledged calling airport police from a payphone to say that Shell was carrying liquid explosives.
Smith said he did it to “avenge” his new girlfriend because Shell had posted a compromising picture of her on Facebook, the affidavit said.
“It is the kind of photo that would incense a boyfriend,” said Brennan, Smith’s lawyer.
Smith, 26, of Philadelphia, was charged with conveying false information that interfered with aviation and using an instrument of commerce — the phone — to do so.
If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and possible restitution.
Police stressed Thursday that Shell, who lives in Philadelphia, was blameless for the airplane scare. He continued traveling later that day to his home state of Texas, where he planned to celebrate his birthday with friends and family. But authorities arrested him when he arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
Collin County authorities said Shell had outstanding warrants for two drug-possession charges, less than 2 ounces of marijuana and less than 28 grams of a controlled substance.