Kurt and Lori Haskell
Kurt and Lori Haskell
A Newport couple had a Christmas they never will forget.

Kurt and Lori Haskell sat seven rows behind a 23-year-old Nigerian man on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam who now has been charged with trying to destroy the plane in what is believed to be an attempted act of terrorism.

The Haskells were coming home from a safari vacation in Uganda and were on layover in Amsterdam on Christmas. While sitting on the floor waiting to board, Mr. Haskell said he noticed something unusual.

An Indian man who "looked wealthy and was dressed in a nice suit" approached the ticket counter with a young man.

"They looked like an odd couple because the Indian man was dressed so nice and the person, who I thought was a teen, was a scraggly dressed black guy," Mr. Haskell said. "... The Indian man said he needed to get (the Nigerian man) on the plane, but he had no passport."

Mr. Haskell, 38, said the Indian man told the woman at the ticket counter that "the man was from Sudan and that it was typical (to let him on the plane without a passport)."

The young man was sent down the hall to talk with a manager. A few minutes later, passengers boarded the plane bound for Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The flight was "nice and smooth" until shortly before landing. Mr. Haskell said the pilot made an announcement for the passengers to prepare for landing. About 10 minutes later, a second announcement was made directed at the flight attendants.

"Within a few seconds, I heard one stewardesses say that something smelled like smoke," Mr. Haskell said. "I looked up from my seat and saw the smoke coming from row 20."

The Haskells were sitting in seats H and J in row 27, seven rows back from the fire. Once he saw the smoke, Mr. Haskell unbuckled his beat and took a few steps forward.

"I saw the flames shooting up and saw the wall was on fire," he said. "I thought we were going to die."

A male flight attendant put out the flames. Fear took over as passengers realized the situation they just had faced.

"People were yelling 'terrorist' and 'fire'," Mr. Haskell said. "The flight attendants, who are usually calm, were screaming, and it was scary."

That was when Mr. Haskell noticed the man who started the fire was the same man who he saw at the Amsterdam ticket counter.

The suspect quickly was moved to the first-class section of the plane, and the Haskells did not see him afterward. The man, since identified as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was handcuffed and taken into custody when the plane landed.

The pilot announced there would be an emergency landing and the plane picked up speed, Mr. Haskell said, hitting the ground about five minutes after the ordeal.

Once grounded, the passengers were left on board for about 20 minutes before being escorted inside the airport to customs, where they were kept for about six hours without the ability to contact family.

"It was sad and disorganized," Mr. Haskell said. "They didn't seem to be prepared."

A bomb-sniffing dog was sent in to check the bags, and something was detected in another passenger's carry-on bag, Mr. Haskell said.

"I can't believe they let us stand by him for almost an hour," he said.

The security in Amsterdam was similar to the United States, Mr. Haskell said, but he still is baffled how a person without a passport would be allowed to board a plane.

"I'm concerned that someone with a one-way ticket, no passport and no luggage could just get on a flight," he said.

The Christmas Day events did not sink in with the couple until Saturday.

"I don't think what happened really sank in until this morning," Mr. Haskell said Saturday. "He was a terrorist with a sophisticated bomb."

"We were in shock," Mrs. Haskell, 32, added. "The first thing I thought of was my mom. She is always worried when I fly."

The incident will not deter the couple from flying again. The avid travelers take four to five vacations a year.

"I think we will stay in the United States for a while," Mr. Haskell said.

"We are definitely not flying through Amsterdam anytime soon," Mrs. Haskell said. "But I'm looking on the positive side. This is a one in a million chance that it happened."

The Haskells are both attorneys with Haskell Law Firm in Taylor. Mrs. Haskell is a member of the Jefferson Schools Board of Education.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab