Local/State

Phila. Int'l Airport hoax victim arrested in Dallas

Friday, September 07, 2012
Christopher Shell

The target of a hoax at Philadelphia International Airport was arrested in Dallas in another twist to an ongoing saga that began Thursday morning

The drama unfolded at 7:30 a.m.

Chris Shell of South Philadelphia was on US Airways flight 1267, on his way to Texas to celebrate his 29th birthday.

At that time, the hoax caller, identified himself as George Michaels of the 800 block of Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia, called Philadelphia police airport headquarters.

That caller was later identified by the U.S. Attorney's Office as Kenneth W. Smith, 26, of Philadelphia.

Smith allegedly said that Shell was on a plane bound for Texas with liquid explosives.

Authorities soon learned the plane, US Airways flight 1267, had already taken off at 7:40 a.m. and had been in the air for about a half hour.

They ordered the plane to return to Philadelphia.

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Here is the exchange between the pilot and the airport control tower:

Pilot: Yes sir, we need to return to Philadelphia.

Tower: What's the nature of the problem?

Pilot: 300 heading assigned for Philadelphia and we just got a message from dispatch that they have a security concern and that's as much information as we have.

Tower: OK, thank you.

Pilot: And they want us to return to Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, passenger Steve McNeal of Philadelphia was sitting next to Shell on the plane when he was arrested.

McNeal says that during the half hour or so on the flight, Shell had revealed to him that his mom and dad had recently passed away and in the midst of it all, he had broken up with his girlfriend for being unsupportive of him.

"He said that his girlfriend wasn't there for him in the time of need," McNeal said.

McNeal says he was stunned when federal agents boarded the plane, pointing an automatic rifle at Shell, the guy sitting next to him who seemed like just a regular Joe.

"He was as surprised as I was, just sitting there looking straight forward. I think he said a few foul language words when they pointed the gun at him, like what's going on, cause he had no clue," McNeal said.

US Airways flight 1267 arrived back in Philadelphia where Philadelphia SWAT, bomb technicians, and FBI agents stormed the plane and removed the passenger, later identified as Christopher Shell.

He was handcuffed and placed on the tarmac.

Shell was then transferred into FBI custody and removed from the scene for further questioning.

Bomb technicians and bomb sniffing dogs conducted a search of the plane and, around 9:30 a.m., the all-clear was given.

Passengers were taken off the plane and bused to the terminal where they caught other flights to their destinations.

After federal authorities cleared Shell of any wrongdoing in Philadelphia and released him, he spent the afternoon trying to shop his exclusive interview to television stations for $1,000.

But then Shell ultimately took a flight that landed in Dallas/Fort Worth at 6:10 p.m. where he was promptly arrested by local authorities on unspecified outstanding warrants.

He previously had warrants for assault with bodily injury, reckless driving and possession of drugs.

Sources tell Action News that Shell spent two months in jail earlier this year on a robbery charge in Clifton, New Jersey. We asked Shell specifically about this arrest and he did not want to comment about it.

The drama of the airport hoax not only took place in the skies over Philadelphia International, but also played out on social media.

Among those sending messages and wondering what was going on was the hoax victim himself.

Shell was clearly excited about his trip to Dallas as he snapped pictures of himself on the plane after he settled into his seat.

A half hour later, he posted this message on Facebook, "I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty disappointed in US Airways currenlty. We just spent a half hour in the air to be notified that that the plane 'has technical difficulties' and had to fly back! Flight 1267 Cancelled."

A friend commented back, "I just seen on the news that your plane has been landed because of a suspicious passenger. Are you the suspicious passenger?"

It turned out he was.

At the time he and the other passengers had no way of knowing that he was the victim of a cruel hoax.

Four days ago, Shell posted a picture of his luggage as he packed for the trip, and asked, "What should I bring?"

A friend warned him, "No weapon, that's Fosho. [sic]"

Shell wrote, "LOL, what's that supposed to mean?"

The friend responded, "Nothing towards you brother. Just saying you're flying and don't want to see a post of you being beat down at the airport. That's all, LOL."

Shell wrote back, "Just curious where your head is at. What idiot would ever think of weapons when flying? Any beat downs taking place at any airport will never involve me."

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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Tags:
philadelphia, philadelphia international airport, dallas, bomb scare, local/state
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