Backgammon game to blame for Phoenix flight diversion

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ST. LOUIS -- A US Airways flight from New York to Phoenix was diverted to St. Louis Tuesday morning after three passengers acted suspiciously, and it turns out it was all because of a board game.

A Transportation Security Administration statement said US Airways flight 457 from New York's JFK International Airport landed at Lambert Field in St. Louis shortly before 6 a.m. Arizona time due to the suspicious behavior of three passengers. Agency spokeswoman Sarah Horowitz would not elaborate so it's not known exactly what the three passengers in question were doing.

One passenger said he was told there was a suspicious device, which fellow passenger Gene Austin described as a big wooden box. That box turned out to be a backgammon game.

"A lady sitting in front of them brought it to the attention of the stewardesses," Austin said. "They made the decision to put the flight down in Missouri."

The suspicious behavior involved three men who switched seats so they could be in a group and spent prolonged time in the bathroom. One of them moved a little too close to the cockpit door. That action prompted rumors that he might have been trying to rush the cockpit, but that was not the case.

According to KMOV.com, one passenger on the plane tweeted "What behavior. I was next to them. They couldn't speak English. 1 tried to move to exit row for legroom. 1 was asleep."

Another passenger tweeted "Hurried us off plane. Put us in bus, tool to terminal. Several police cars, dogs, emc vehicles, and guys in hazmat suits surrounded plane."

Lambert spokesman Jeff Lea said the Airbus A320 landed without incident and all 128 passengers were taken off the plane safely.

"I was ready to climb over the seats," said passenger Gail Zeranti. "You're looking outside your window and you see six fire trucks and men in space suits and dogs looking for bombs. Let me off!"

Flight 457 reportedly was diverted as a precautionary measure. The plane was on the ground in St. Louis for almost three hours. A security sweep was performed while the passengers waited in the concourse. After that sweep, the plane was cleared to resume its flight.

Passengers re-boarded and continued on to Phoenix, taking off shortly before 9 a.m. Arizona time.

Flight time from St. Louis to Phoenix is a little less than three hours. The flight touched down at Sky Harbor International Airport about 11:45 a.m., which is nearly three hours later than its originally scheduled arrival from JFK.

The three men who were involved, Israelis of Russian descent, were questioned and released. A language barrier is likely responsible for some of the confusion on board the plane.

The TSA said the precautionary measure of diverting and landing the plane, while necessary in these days of heightened security, was in no way related to terrorism.

Tuesday morning's incident came amid heightened air travel security concerns around the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

On Sunday, a Go Jet Airlines flight from St. Louis to Washington returned to the gate at Lambert after the crew became concerned when they found paper towels stuffed in a toilet.

KMOV.com and The Associated Press contributed to this report.