It was a tense few hours for airline passengers arriving in Vancouver from Edmonton on Friday when Mounties boarded the plane asking who had used AirDrop to send an alleged photo of a bomb.
Richmond RCMP Cpl. Dennis Hwang confirmed Saturday that there was a security breach shortly before midnight involving “a person on this flight who received electronic communications on his mobile device about a possible threat.”
Police were called to investigate the landing of Flair Airlines Flight 2799 at YVR.
According to a 27th row passenger on board, who asked not to be named in connection with the alleged threat, the ordeal was “very scary.”
He recalled three troopers boarding the plane a few hours after it landed on the taxiway at around 11:44 p.m.
The officers immediately approached a young man near row 11, according to Jesse Boyk of Vancouver, who was also on the flight.
“They were talking to the guy about Airdrop”, Apple’s wireless file sharing facility, Boyk said. “One of the policemen asked him to show them his phone.”
Another officer walked the aisles, asking passengers who had sent or received an AirDrop file about a bomb on the plane, both passengers confirmed.
Before the RCMP cleared the plane and the passengers were unloaded at 2:15 a.m., they were told little about the developing safety concern.
“The pilot came on and said three announcements that were basically all the same,” recalled the passenger in row 27. “He said, ‘We’re investigating a security threat… We need to follow the instructions of the RCMP… Thank you for your patience.’”
Police eventually told the passengers that Apple was being contacted to trace the digital correspondence, Boyk said. “It was all very surprising.”
RCMP is still investigating the incident, with “No. 1 consideration for charges of uttering threats,” Hwang said. The maximum penalty for conviction is five years in prison.
“However, if in the investigation we determine that it is not in the public interest to bring the charges or there is insufficient evidence, we will not do so.”
The official also pointed out the power that the airlines themselves have to penalize passengers who make similar interruptions.
“The airline itself can decide to ban a person behind the AirDrop threat for life,” Hwang said. “These things not only put security at risk, but also cost companies a lot of time and money when a flight is delayed.”
Similar reports have seen the use of AirDrop send unsolicited threats to strangers in canada since the feature was first introduced in 2011. In March, an Air Canada flight to Montreal was canceled after some passengers received images via AirDrop, one of which was a cartoon bomb about to explode.
Although the security threat was ultimately deemed not credible, the messages were enough to cause a panic on the plane.
Time Apple users can decide accepting or rejecting an image when sent wirelessly, the request includes a preview of the image that users see before responding.
However, unwanted file and image sharing via AirDrop can be disabled if users change their iPhone’s default setting to “Reception Off”.
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