A bomb threat forced a United Airlines flight headed to San Francisco from Germany to circle back to Frankfurt Airport on the 14th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Despite the scare, all the passengers were safe and put up in hotels by the airline.
German federal police said in an email on Friday that the flight was "recalled due to a concrete bomb threat to ensure the safety of the passengers and the people at the airport." The federal police carried out security checks of the aircraft, the passengers and the passengers' luggage but found nothing. No further details were provided.
United's website stated earlier in the day that Flight 902 was "canceled due to security disruptions." One of the passengers texted her sister in San Jose that she was told there was some sort of "threat."
Passengers aboard the plane told NBC Bay Area they weren't given any information about the specific nature of the threat.
"The flight originally took off OK ... About half an hour into the flight the captain said over the intercom the German police wanted the flight to return," Isaac C, who was returning home to San Francisco from vacation, told NBC Bay Area in an interview from Frankfurt. "We were worried — our immediate thought was that SFO was a major international destination and today was 9/11."
In a statement, United Airlines said the flight "returned to Frankfurt shortly after take-off at the direction of German authorities." The plane "landed safely" at 3:39 p.m. German time. According to United there were 333 passengers and 18 crew members on the Boeing 747.
Once the plane returned to Germany, passengers were thoroughly checked through X-ray machines and sent off with handfuls of Snickers and drinks to nearby hotels.
Isaac C. posted an Instagram video of the passengers getting off the plane at Frankfurt, where about two dozen police officers and fire trucks were waiting. The German police made an announcement that there was a threat to the plane, Isaac said. "Some passengers were saying there was a bomb threat," he said. "Nobody that we saw was arrested — about half way through the security search, they paused and sped it up."
"They did a wipe test on every item, checked small electronic cables wires, opened up all our clothing — they were looking for chemicals and strange wiring," he said. “I felt I was getting a Thai massage.”
Passengers will be taking a shuttle back to the airport from their hotel tomorrow morning. "I am ok with being delayed a day if it meant everybody is safe," Isaac C said.
The flight was scheduled to return to SFO at 4:20 p.m. on Friday — 14 years after terrorists attacked the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City by airplane on Sept. 11, 2011. One of those planes was a United flight. Another United flight crashed into a field in Shanksfield, Penn. In all, almost 3,000 people died that day.
“I didn’t really realize it was 9/11 until we heard the captain,” Rob Tobias of Sunnyvale, Calif. told NBC Bay Area In a phone interview from a Frankfurt hotel. "Then I thought, ‘Wow, something is up.’ And those tragic events came to mind. I’ll never forget that day. And I won’t forget today, either.”
A video posted by @iiiccc on
NBC Bay Area's Gonzalo Rojas contributed to this report.