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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted at 7:50 p.m., Sunday, February 3,2002

Maui jet grounded after powdery substance found

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

American Airlines grounded a 757 jet plane on Maui late yesterday, after a flight attendant discovered a white powdery substance aboard when it arrived from San Jose.

An American Airlines jet sits on the tarmac at the Kahului Airport today. The jet and its load of passengers were not allowed to leave yesterday because a white, powdery substance was found on board.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The airline cancelled a return flight scheduled for 11:56 p.m., and put up more than 100 passengers at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort at Ka'anapali overnight.

University of Oklahoma football kicker Jeff Ferguson, one of about 20 Hula Bowl players booked on the flight to the Mainland, said gate agents reported the powder had been found near a baby bottle, and that it probably was baby powder or formula.

"But they said they had to do an anthrax test and that it would take a day," so the flight to San Jose was cancelled.

"This whole (terrorism) thing has got everyone paranoid," Ferguson said.

American could not be reached for comment.

Passenger Lou Chapman, of Fort Worth, Texas, said he called his office and said "the bad news is we won't be back to work until tomorrow afternoon. The good news is we are stuck on Maui."

A sample of the material was removed by the Maui Fire Department's hazardous materials team, and taken to a state health department storage area, Capt. Gordon Cordeiro, acting assistant fire chief said.

But the state did not learn of the incident for more than 12 hours, and didn't bring the sample to O'ahu for testing until this evening.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said his staff asked American to try to find passengers seated where the powder was found, so they could be asked about it.

It will take 24 hours to see if the powder is anthrax, Anderson's deputy Loretta Fuddy said today.

American moved the aircraft to the hazardous materials section of the airport, State Department of Transportation spokesperson Marilyn Kali said. Anderson said American indicated it was going to wait for test results before flying the aircraft.

The aircraft holds seats for 22 in first class and 154 in coach. Barry Lewin, general manager of the Hyatt Regency resort, said it took about 70 rooms to house the unexpected guests, typically at two per room.

Chad Cole, of Arlington, Texas, here with his wife for a business meeting, said passengers last night crowded to the terminal windows to watch the fire department arrive.

"A few firefighters went up the ladder and came back out and put on silver hazmat type suits, about five of them in all suited up," Cole said.

The firefighters came out five minutes later, "and it almost gave us a sigh of relief to see two of them had their helmets off," he said. But ten minutes later the airline announced the flight was cancelled, Cole said.

"Everybody was frustrated, but if this were before Sept. 11 I think you would have heard a lot more grumbling," Cole said.

He said the delay meant his mother-in-law had to take another day off work to babysit his children.

"But there's a million worse places to be stranded," he said.

Reach Walter Wright at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.