The tall tale of Flight 297

THE TALL TALE OF FLIGHT 297…. If you have any right-wing relatives, or spend a lot of time perusing far-right blogs, you may have heard about Tedd Petruna and Flight 297.

Petruna’s version of events, written in an email that’s quickly made the rounds, is quite a colorful tale. As he described what transpired, Petruna boarded an AirTran flight from Atlanta to Houston, sitting in first class. He saw “11 Muslim men” get on the plane “in full attire,” and noticed that two of the eleven sat in first class, while the other nine “peppered themselves throughout the plane.”

As the plane taxied the runway, Petruna’s email says he saw one of the 11 in the front of the plane call another man in the back, and proceeded to speak “in Arabic very loudly and very aggressively.” The two, the story goes, ignored flight attendants’ requests to turn off their phones. Meanwhile, another two of the 11 “began to show footage of a porno they had taped the night before.” Then, all 11 “started to walk the cabin.”

Petruna claims he and another man grabbed some of the Muslims, before seven law enforcement officials escorted all 11 men off the plane. The 11 then came back, the crew revolted and left the plane, a new crew came on, prompting a passenger revolt led, of course, by Petruna. He wrote the email, it explains, because “the terrorists wanted to see how TSA would handle it, how the crew would handle it, and how the passengers would handle it…. The threat is real.”

As the email, written just nine days ago, garnered more attention — it was especially popular on Glenn Beck’s site for the 9.12 Project — more news outlets began seeking Petruna for comment. The bold hero of his own story, who was only too glad to confront those he suspected of terrorism, didn’t want to talk to reporters. Now we know why.

He was not on the plane, AirTran Airways says.

“After conducting additional research into this situation, we have verified, according to flight manifests [legally binding documents] that the individual that allegedly created a first-hand account of events on-board AirTran Airways Flight 297, a Theodore Petruna, was never actually on-board the flight,” AirTran said in a statement, which the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was the first to obtain.

It turns out, the incident, if you can call it that, stems from a Spanish-speaking passenger who didn’t turn off his cell phone when asked to do so, because he didn’t understand the instructions. Petruna’s story, not surprisingly, is bogus.

The airline went to the trouble of debunking the entire ridiculous tale, point by point.

Feel free to let that right-wing uncle of yours know.