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25 December 2009

Unsuccessful Attempt to Detonate a Bomb on Northwest flight 253 near Detroit

A passenger on a Northwest Airlines A330-300(N820NW) apparently attempted to detonate an explosive device while the aircraft was approaching Detroit. Flight 253 was an international flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, and early reports are that a passenger, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (earlier reports had his name as Abdul Mudallad), a 23-year-old Nigerian national, allegedly had the device strapped to one of his legs, and that the device was triggered during descent (about 20 minutes before landing) and started a small fire. The flight, operated by Northwest Airlines using an Airbus 330-300 aircraft with 278 passengers and 11 crew members on board, landed safely, and the suspect, the only person injured, was transported to a local hospital for treatment of serious burns.

A passenger who was interviewed by CNN stated that the suspect was sitting in seat 19A, that he heard a popping sound, followed by a glow and the smell of smoke . Nearby passengers subdued the suspect. Another passenger in an interview published by the Wall Street Journal said that she was in seat 18B, and she heard a loud bang after the aircraft had lowered its landing gear. Reportedly, at first she thought the plane might have gotten a flat tire, but then she said saw a flame leap from the lap of a man sitting in the row behind her in the window seat, 19A. The suspect was subdued, and moved to another part of the aircraft for the rest of the flight.

Northwest flight 253 had departed Amsterdam at about 0845 local time Friday morning, and arrived at Detroit, MI at about noon local time. The flight crew had declared some kind of emergency before the landing. The Airbus A330 had 278 passengers on board. Early reports also indicate that the suspect started his journey on a KLM flight from Nigeria to Amsterdam, and had connected with flight 253 in Amsterdam.

The device was described by unidentified US officials as a mixture of powder and liquid. Other reports included details such as the suspect using a syringe to inject some kind of liquid into the device.

Rep. Peter King, a US congressman from New York State, claims that the suspect's name did not appear on any of the terrorist watch lists maintained by US authorities, but that his name did turn up in other terrorism-related databases maintained by intelligence officials. An unidentified US official also claims that the suspect told investigators that he was given the device by al Qaeda operatives in Yemen, where he was also given instructions on how to detonate it. An unidentified White House official claims that this event was “an attempted act of terrorism.”

According to this Trip Advisor seat map of a Northwest A330-300, seat 19A would be a window seat situated directly over the left wing.

The White House has reportedly ordered unspecified increased security procedures at airports around the country, though the Department of Homeland Security threat level for the air transportation system has not changed from it current level of 'High' (orange) to 'Severe' (red).

Additional Information

Fatal US and Canadian bombing events
Other A330 crashes and significant events
Airline security suggestions from
Top Ten tips for high threat travel

A330 Photo: J.P. Karas; Seat Map:


  1. As always a wonderful summation of the known information. Thank You Dr. Curtis.

  2. The best report I've read so far about the incident. Thanks! I'm glad it didn't end a different way.

  3. Very good report!
    What were the products used in the attempt? How is possible to avoid this kind of attempt, without the full body scanners? Is possible to identify it with dogs?
    Jaime Fortes