NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – JetBlue passengers spent two terrifying hours on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport, undergoing a SWAT team search after the pilot accidentally signaled the aircraft had been hijacked.
There was chaos and confusion on board Flight 1623 from JFK to LAX on Tuesday night.
“People were crying, everyone’s texting their families. And we were on the ground, so usually this would happen in the air if it was going to happen. Yeah, people were like ready to like die,” Alexa Curtis said.
The plane was on the tarmac at JFK awaiting take-off, when armed SWAT officers stormed the aisles.
“I hate guns. They were pointing them at us. It was traumatizing,” said Curtis.
JetBlue said the pilot lost radio communication with the JFK tower.
That distress code should be 7,600. Instead, the pilot accidentally punched in 7,500 – the code, or “squawk,” signaling the plane had been hijacked.
“While communication was reestablished via alternate channels, authorities responded out of an abundance of caution,” the airline said in a statement.
One expert said, in many ways, the pilot’s hands were tied.
“He or she can certainly get on the phone and say, ‘I made a mistake,’ or the radios and say, ‘I made a mistake.’ In this case, it’s a little difficult, because he had no radios,” he said. “To have the pilot come on and say, ‘I made a mistake,’ is not sufficient, because hijackers could certainly be in the cockpit.”
“I guess it would have made sense to maybe stagger (the codes) a little bit,” he added.
The Federal Aviation Administration said any time air traffic control receives a 7,500 squawk, protocol, including a SWAT team sweep and full inspection, must be followed.
CBS2 asked the FAA if it’s willing to change the code. So far, no response.