Editor’s Note: Last week, AC360° Producer David Puente interviewed Scotti Keepman, a passenger on board Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day. Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the man charged with trying to blow up the plane, pleaded not guilty Friday to six federal charges.
Scotti Keepman, a passenger aboard Northwest Flight 253 described the chaos on board and told me about the mass confusion on the ground as passengers tried to get home. In her opinion, the airline dropped the ball. She said she feels the U.S. government’s response to the attempted attack was “disappointing” and even “disgusting.”
Keepman said she was flying from Ethiopia to Holland on her way back home to Wisconsin with her husband and the two young Ethiopian siblings they had just adopted. Her older daughter was with them as well. Until then, the young children had never been on a plane so when they smelled smoke and saw flight attendants run down the aisles, and heard passengers cry and yell, the Keepmans focused on keeping their young children distracted, even entertained.
Keepman also described a passenger who she says videotaped the bomb plot suspect as others tried to subdue him. She says the FBI was looking for the video tape and the man who was recording when the plane landed in Detroit, telling passengers that no one was leaving until the tape was found.
Puente: Scotti, you convinced your young children that the chaos going on in the plane was a game so they wouldn’t be scared. What was going through your mind as you and your family sat 20 rows behind AbdulMutallab?
Keepman: “We heard the noise and the kids had no idea what to expect on a plane so the noise didn’t startle them. The older child caught on to the fact that something was wrong because flight attendants ran and yelled ‘oh my God, oh my god,’ down the aisles.
I said, “Aren’t they funny? Aren’t they silly? The flight attendants are fun, they play games.” When that all happened my husband and daughter turned and joined tickling the kids and playing with them as they were sitting in front of us.
Then we started smelling smoke and we heard screams and we weren’t sure we could make make it. We started singing “Jesus Loves Us” because the kids know that song. I said to my husband and daughter, “These kids can’t know what is going on, no matter what happens, we have to make it fun for them.”
Puente: But then the gravity of the situation came over the whole family…what did you do?
Keepman: “I completely stuffed it down. I though if we didn’t make it, I felt very secure where I was going and where my family was going and then talking to God I said two things. One, these kids need a second chance. I didn’t believe it could really happen, God took us too far with them to end it then. And two, these kids had come from a horrific situation, separated from their mother who suffered from a heart condition. It was tough to think they wouldn’t make it, that God wouldn’t allow them a second chance.”
Puente: You say your daughter saw another passenger videotape the whole incident. What can you tell us about that passenger and what he did?
Keepman: “My daughter saw him as were boarding the plane. She said, “Mom look at that man video taping everyone.” From the time we were getting on the plane, then on the plane he stood up calmly and continued to videotape during the incident. He was about 10 rows in front of her and she was a row ahead of me.
We haven’t heard anything else except that the FBI was looking for him. Once we were put into the holding area when the plane landed, we were told no one could leave until the man videotaping was identified and the tape found. We don’t know what happened, my daughter never saw him again after we got off the plane. She says he was a white man, brown hair, rather tall, from behind he looked about 40.
My daughter and my husband spoke to a man later who said he was sitting next to the man videotaping and from our conversation with the man, he made it sound that as far as he could tell the man was on his own. I didn’t notice him when we were boarding. I remember my daughter said to me “Why is he videotaping everyone getting on the plane?” But I didn’t pay too much attention cause I was busy focusing on the kids. She noticed him videotaping sporadically during the flight. Standing in his seat. I believe he was sitting on the aisle side not in the center rows as we were.”
Puente: Scotti, you are still angry with the airline for how you feel you were treated after the emergency landing. You say the airline shuffled all the passengers into a room for hours with only two bathrooms available, kids were crying children and no water was distributed?
Keepman: “Very disappointed with how they handled things. I understand there was chaos for them as well but it wasn’t even that they didn’t have enough manpower. It seemed they didn’t tell other employees what happened. There was no help whatsoever to rent cars, for example.
They should be sending out a letter of apology to all the passengers. I hear they will send a $250 voucher. The FBI asked the airline to get water to the passengers and they didn’t seem to be able to do that. We are so in awe that they did nothing. We have never heard from them. I saw people wandering not knowing how they’d get home because they missed flights, people on lines that looked like would last for hours. It was out of control. We tried to rent a car because we didn’t want to get on a plane again but there weren’t any big vehicles to fit all of us and our luggage…so we had to fly on another plane to get home. You would think that they would help people with hotels etc but there was nothing.”
After my conversation with Keepman, I called Delta to ask for reaction. Here is the statement they emailed after I read Keepman’s allegations:
"Customer feedback is important to us. We have been making contact with all customers on board NW Flight 253 to express our concern and have offered future travel credits as a courtesy."
Puente: Scotti, you are also upset with the Obama administration. Why are you angry with its handling of the situation?
Keepman: “Oh my goodness…l am disgusted, disappointed, disillusioned in our government right now. When I watch a man who claims to be the terrorist tried as a citizen and we as taxpayers will pay for that and bargain with him and his lawyer. The fact that he isn’t treated as a terrorist. Whether or not I voted for Obama, I always thought you respect and stand behind your president in every way but I have been saddened by his lack of authority in how he dealt with this situation.
When he says that "everybody is to blame," therefore "the buck stops with me." Well we can’t fire the president so this is swept under the rug. [U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet] Napolitano is the one who should be held accountable for this. I’m not talking about being fired but someone needs to be accountable, stand up and take responsibility. I’m concerned and afraid for the American people. This man wanted to blow up a plane and in my eyes the fact that our Congress is allowing this man to get a lawyer, he is being treated like he went to rob the local convenience store and I don’t feel safe. Next time I fly I may take Ethiopian airlines.”