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Air China flight to New York turns back to Beijing after 'threat'

An Air China flight bound for New York was forced to return to Beijing more than three hours into its journey yesterday after a "threatening message" was received, the airline and state media said.

Air China flight 981 returned to the Beijing Capital International Airport to "guarantee passenger safety", the airline said in a brief statement on its official microblog after the flight landed.

Xinhua said police were still investigating. Officials gave no details of the nature of the threat and did not say if it was genuine or a hoax. The incident comes at a sensitive time, ahead of a Communist Party congress this autumn at which a 10-yearly leadership change will occur.

The flight originally took off at 1pm. It landed back in the capital at 8.26pm.

News portal Sina quoted passengers on board as saying the pilot informed passengers of the threatening message only shortly before it landed, but that the atmosphere on board was calm.

Internet users, including some of the flight's passengers, posted photos on their microblogs showing dozens of security personnel searching passengers and their luggage on the airport apron.

Security at the departure hall of Terminal 3 of the Beijing airport appeared normal. Airline ground staff said they received no instructions to step up security checks. Arriving passengers said they did not notice anything unusual in the restricted area of the terminal.

Late last night Xinhua reported that nothing abnormal concerning the flight had been found, quoting airline and airport sources. The flight took off again just after 12.30am this morning.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Air China flight turns back after 'threat'