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‘People Were Ready to Die.’ Authorities Swarm JetBlue Plane After False Hijacking Alarm at JFK Airport

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Updated: | Originally published: ;

Passengers on a JetBlue flight attempting to depart New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport got a scare on Tuesday, when a false hijacking alarm prompted authorities to swarm the grounded plane.

The Los Angeles-bound plane “experienced a radio problem” while taxiing before departure, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The malfunction caused air traffic controllers to lose contact with the pilot, CNN reports — so when the plane mistakenly transmitted a code signifying a security threat onboard, authorities leapt into action.

Passenger Alexa Curtis, a blogger, told CNN that police surrounded the plane and SWAT officers boarded the aircraft, telling passengers to put their hands up and stow their phones.

“People were, like, crying. Everyone’s texting their family, and we were on ground, so usually this would happen in the air if it was gonna happen,” Curtis told CBS Los Angeles. “People were ready to die.”

In a statement provided to TIME, a JetBlue representative said the plane “experienced a radio issue impacting the crew’s ability to communicate and a false alarm was sent to JFK tower.” The statement adds that the crew regained communication through other channels, but law enforcement responded to the situation “out of an abundance of caution.”

Officials later determined that there had been no security threat, and returned the plane to the gate for inspection, according to JetBlue. Passengers, who had been directed to return to the airport, eventually boarded a new plane to Los Angeles.

“I feel, like, safe that that’s what their precautions are, I don’t care if it’s radio or not,” Curtis told CBS. “I just wish they had been more vocal about it.”

The incident remains under investigation by the FAA and JetBlue.

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Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com