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2:54 p.m. September 11, 2001: Suspected Hijacked Korean Airlines Jet Lands Safely in Canada

A Korean Airlines 747 at Whitehorse Airport.A Korean Airlines 747 at Whitehorse Airport. [Source: Government of Yukon]A Korean Airlines passenger jet that is mistakenly considered hijacked and is low on fuel lands without incident at Whitehorse Airport, in Canada’s Yukon Territory. (Levin 8/12/2002; Hollander 9/8/2002)
Plane Still Transmitting Hijack Signal - Korean Airlines Flight 85 is a Boeing 747 with 215 people on board, and was on its way from Seoul, South Korea, to New York. Although it has not been hijacked, for reasons that are unclear, its pilots have given indications that the plane has been hijacked (see (Shortly Before 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and 1:24 p.m. September 11, 2001). Flight 85 was due to land in Anchorage, Alaska, for a refueling stop, but has been diverted to Whitehorse (see (Shortly After 1:24 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The aircraft is still transmitting a beacon code indicating it is hijacked, 90 minutes after its pilots switched the transponder to that code. (Levin 8/12/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 257, 277-278) Fighter jets that launched to follow Flight 85 (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001) have escorted the plane all the way from Alaska to Whitehorse. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/12/2001; Levin 8/12/2002; Hollander 9/8/2002)
Schools and Government Buildings Evacuated - Because hijacking is a criminal activity, the Whitehorse Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has taken charge of the local response to Flight 85. The RCMP removed children from schools and evacuated buildings that are considered probable targets for terrorist attacks, including the Yukon government’s main administration building and Whitehorse City Hall. All non-essential members of staff have been evacuated from the Whitehorse Airport terminal building; a security perimeter has been established around the airport; and part of the Alaska Highway has been closed. (Yukon Government 11/13/2001, pp. 14-15 pdf file) Police suggested that downtown businesses and residents evacuate, but most have not done so.
Co-Pilot Escorted off Plane at Gunpoint - Flight 85 now lands at Whitehorse Airport safely and without incident, and is directed to a secluded area on the tarmac. (Hollander 9/29/2001; Levin 8/12/2002; Hollander 9/8/2002) Heavily armed members of the RCMP surround it. (Canadian Press 9/12/2001; United Press International 9/12/2001) A single RCMP officer then walks up the plane’s steps and asks to speak with a member of the flight crew. The co-pilot subsequently emerges and is escorted off the plane at gunpoint. (Hollander 9/29/2001) One witness to the incident will later recount, “He had everyone drawing down on him and he had to take some clothes off, wave his shirt in the air and all that.” (Canadian Press 9/12/2001) The rest of the crew and the passengers will be escorted off the plane later on, around 5:10 p.m. The passengers will be instructed to leave all their personal items, including their carry-on luggage, on the aircraft. (Hollander 9/29/2001; Yukon Government 11/13/2001, pp. 17 pdf file; Hollander 9/8/2002) The fighters that escorted Flight 85 to Whitehorse will circle above the airport while the plane is being inspected. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/12/2001) The RCMP will finally confirm that Flight 85 had not been hijacked early the following morning (see September 12, 2001). (Yukon Government 11/13/2001, pp. 18 pdf file)
Reasons for Landing at Whitehouse Unclear - Although it was reportedly because of the plane’s lack of fuel that it was decided to land Flight 85 at Whitehorse Airport, a report published by the government of Yukon in November 2001 will state: “The question of why this potentially dangerous aircraft was directed to Whitehorse rather than another airport remains unanswered by senior national agencies, the [FAA], NORAD, and Transport Canada.… [Q]uestions about the decision-making process to re-direct [Flight 85] to Whitehorse have not been answered in any significant detail.” The report will add, “It is expected that greater detail on this will not be forthcoming from these agencies in the short-term.” (Yukon Government 11/13/2001, pp. 5 pdf file; Hollander 9/8/2002)

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