Fort Lauderdale

‘I Was Treated Like a Criminal': Man Detained in FLL ‘Threat'

The FBI said a "miscommunication" on an aircraft at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport led to a "perceived" bomb threat Thursday, and a man being questioned by investigators later said he was "treated like a criminal."

According to the Broward Sheriff's Office, a passenger on a Spirit Airlines flight Thursday evening bound for Minneapolis was on the phone when at least one other passenger overheard his conversation and mistook it for a bomb threat.

Broward Sheriff's deputies were called, and the plane returned to FLL around 10:25 p.m. shortly after take-off. BSO said passengers got off and the plane was swept for explosives. None turned up.

Two people believed to be involved in the alleged threat were taken for questioning by BSO and FBI agents, who also interviewed three witnesses and two flight attendants.

FBI agents determined there was no actual threat to the flight and said the incident was the result of a miscommunication between the witness passengers, the flight crew and the pilot.

The male subject who was on the phone was released and not charged.

One of the men removed from the plane was later identified as 38-year-old Yaniv Abotbul, a U.S. citizen who lives in Aventura and was traveling for business. Abotbul and his attorney held a news conference Friday morning.

Attorney Mark Eiglarsh said Abotbul got on the plane, took a sleeping pill and fell asleep. He awoke when the plane returned to FLL.

"I was in a big shock when the police officer came inside the aircraft and just jumped on me," Abotbul said. "I was treated like a criminal."

He said he was dragged off the plane because of his appearance.

"Probably my look, probably being me, being somebody that have a different appearance than most," he said.

Abotbul said he was handcuffed and interrogated for five hours before being let go. But when he tried to take a different flight, Spirit representatives refused to let him fly, Eiglarsh said.

"My client was treated like a terrorist in his own country," Eiglarsh said.

Spirit Airlines released a statement Friday saying the crew acted out of an "abundance of caution."

"While we never want to divert a flight, concerns for the safety and security of our all of our passengers and crew sometimes call for immediate action. It requires the best judgment of the crew to make these difficult decisions," the statement read. "The consequences of not acting or responding to a potential threat can be catastrophic. Our crew followed the appropriate protocol to ensure the safety of everyone onboard. Passengers should still report any suspicious activity and justify that, while this may have been the result of a misunderstanding, it’s crucial to act out of an abundance of caution."

The Airbus A320, carrying 92 passengers, was cleared and took off for a second time at 3:43 a.m. and landed safely in Minneapolis just before 6:30 a.m. Friday, according to BSO.

Stay with NBC 6 for updates on this developing story.

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