Jet leaves Halifax after false hijack alert

Virgin Atlantic Airlines plane takes off from Halifax Friday, 4 hours after being escorted there by 2 CF-18s amid fears it was being hijacked.

A Virgin Atlantic Airlines plane took off from Halifax Friday afternoon, four hours after it was escorted there by two Canadian fighter jets amid fears it was being hijacked.

The scare turned out to be a false alarm, triggered by a malfunctioning emergency transponder aboard the Airbus, which was carrying 273 passengers and 16 crew members.

After a police emergency response team did a sweep of the plane to confirm there was no threat to the passengers and crew, Flight 45 continued its interrupted journey from London to New York at about 4 p.m. Atlantic time.

The passengers were kept on the plane as it sat on the tarmac during the investigation.

Shortly after leaving Heathrow Airport en route for John F. Kennedy International Airport Friday, the airplane's transponder began broadcasting an internationally recognized hijacking alert, code 7500.

The pilot repeatedly assured airline and aviation officials that his aircraft was not being hijacked. However, the North American Aerospace Defence Command ordered a military escort in case the pilot was speaking under duress from armed attackers in the cockpit.

Two CF-18 fighter jets met the plane over the Atlantic Ocean and accompanied it as it touched down in Halifax at around noon local time.

"It looked like a fighter jet ahead of it and one behind it, and we saw it land," said Chris Lipsit, who works on a ground maintenance crew at the airport.

Initially there were conflicting reports on where the flight would land. First it was being sent to Moncton, N.B., but then reporters were told it might land in either Newfoundland or Nova Scotia.

Halifax was later confirmed as the intended landing site.