UPDATED: Sept. 6, 2014 12:10 p.m.
CHANTILLY, Va. (WNEW) — A Fairfax woman has been charged with international kidnapping after authorities forced a China-bound flight she boarded with her 4-year-old son to return to Dulles Airport.
United Airlines Flight 897 — a Boeing 777 with 180 passengers — was ordered back to Dulles by the FBI because a woman on board, Wenjing “Linda” Liu, was believed to be kidnapping her child, CBS News reports. The child custody battle that diverted the plane occurred after the child’s father alerted the FBI that the mother was taking the child to China with no plans of returning to the U.S.
The flight was already in Canadian airspace after departing Dulles at 12:39 p.m. Thursday. But passengers say the pilot claimed there were mechanical problems and the flight was being rerouted.
“The pilot came on board and said we were experiencing mechanical problems,” passenger Lane Bailey tells CBS News. “After they left, the pilot came back on and said that he deliberately mislead us, he thought that, in his judgment that it was the best thing to do, given the circumstances of potential abduction that that’s the reason we had diverted.”
The plane returned to Dulles five hours after its departure.
“Suddenly there was this announcement for three individuals to please get off the plane, go to the gate,” passenger Lane Bailey told CBS News. “Finally they did stand up and two women and a male proceeded to the door and to the gate.”
Liu had boarded the flight despite a court order forbidding her from taking the boy out of the country without the permission of her ex-husband, according to federal court affidavits. Liu told her husband that she was flying to China to visit a dying grandmother but investigators found that the tickets had been purchased prior to Liu learning of the relative’s illness.
Liu has been charged with attempted international kidnapping and the child was returned safely to his father.
If the plane had landed in Canada or China and the FBI had not intervened, the incident likely would have become a protracted international custody battle.