The written bomb threat, found aboard an airplane mid-flight, was ominous but clear.
“THERE IS BOMBS ON UA 231,” the note read, according to an FBI criminal complaint. “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO LAND.”
The United Airlines flight was traveling from San Diego to Denver in January 2017 when flier Cameron Korth, 23, alerted flight attendants to the threatening note he said he’d discovered on the toilet seat cover dispenser just after 8 p.m., the complaint said.
But it was only later that Korth’s story began to unravel — and that investigators learned he was the one behind the note. Korth was sentenced last week to 18 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to orchestrating the hoax, according to federal prosecutors in Colorado.
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“A written threat like this is a big deal, especially when you’re one of the people traveling in a metal cylinder 30,000 feet above the earth,” U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said in a statement. “Threats like this have real victims. And they will get you real punishment.”
The plane landed in Denver on Jan. 16, 2017, despite the threat, but the aircraft was kept on an isolated strip of airfield. Passengers were evacuated in buses. Denver police swept the aircraft for explosives, but no bombs or other suspicious devices were found, according to the FBI.
Korth, who said he was having a panic attack following the incident, was given medical attention. Meanwhile, authorities began looking into Korth’s criminal past — which included multiple arrests for emergency telephone abuse and reporting a false fire, police or medical emergency.
After paramedics cleared Korth, authorities began interviewing him.
That’s when the situation got even stranger: Korth told authorities about his “significant criminal history,” but blamed his checkered past on a stripper he said he used to date and do drugs with, according to the FBI. He also told authorities his father was locked up on embezzlement charges.
Korth then voluntarily agreed to draft a written account of what had gone on during the mid-flight bomb scare, according to the FBI.
But as Korth was writing, an FBI agent noticed striking similarities between Korth’s handwriting and the handwriting on the bomb threat. (In particular, the letter formation in each bit of writing was comparable, according to the complaint.)
When the FBI agent confronted Korth about the similarities, Korth hedged — saying something to the effect of: “I won’t say I wrote the threat, but I won’t say I didn’t,” according to the complaint.
But eventually Korth confessed, the complaint said.
Korth admitted to writing the note using a piece of paper he found lodged in his airplane seat, and then taking it to the bathroom before alerting flight attendants to its existence.
Why did he do it? Korth told the FBI “he was trying to get help for his problems and that it was an impulsive act with no thought process behind it,” according to the complaint.
Korth will have to spend four months in a halfway house after he is released from prison, prosecutors said. After that, Korth faces three years of supervised release.