September 5 , 2014
Source: Myfox / ABC News
An international flight, an apparent kidnapping and an unknowing plane full of passengers made for a bizarre scenario Thursday that unfolded 35,000 feet above the ground.
It should have been a routine flight for 180 passengers bound for Beijing Thursday; little did they know they were in the middle of a custody dispute.
The United Airlines flight departed Virginia’s Dulles International Airport at 12:39 p.m. When it reached Canadian air space, the FBI ordered the Boeing 777 back to Virginia after learning a kidnapping suspect was on board.
Flight 897 landed back at Dulles five hours after its departure.
Once at the gate, passenger Lane Bailey says the pilot made an announcement; the incident stemmed from a child custody investigation. According to law enforcement sources, a child was traveling with his mother.
The child’s father, an American citizen, alerted the FBI fearing the mother was taking the child to China with no plans of returning.
At the airport, the mother was taken into police custody on attempted kidnapping charges. The child was returned safely to his father.
The ordeal soon started to make sense to the passengers onboard.
“The pilot came on board and said we were experiencing mechanical problems,” Bailey said. “After they left, the pilot came back on and said that he deliberately mislead us, he thought that, in his judgment that it was the best thing to do, given the circumstances of potential abduction that that’s the reason we had diverted.”
The child’s mother, who was arrested on Thursday at Dulles, is expected in court later today.
Had the plane landed in Canada or China and had the FBI, not intervened, the incident may have turned into a protracted international custody battle.
In 2009, David Goldman’s case drew worldwide attention after his son Sean was taken by his then-wife to Brazil.
After a five year legal battle, Goldman gained custody of his then nine-year-old.
Updates from CNN:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation had received an alert that a mother on that flight was allegedly taking her child out of the country illegally, an FBI spokesman told CNN.
Upon the flight’s return “the flight was met by law enforcement including FBI agents and three individuals were removed from the plane to include a grandmother, mother and child,” FBI spokesman Andrew Ames confirmed, via email.
“The mother was taken into custody on suspicion of committing an international parental kidnapping and the child was reunited with the father. The grandmother was not detained.”
The criminal complaint charges that Wenjing Liu, also known as Linda Liu, unlawfully attempted “to remove a child from the United States with intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights.”
After separating and starting divorce proceedings in 2013, Liu and William J. Ruifrok III were awarded joint custody of their 4-year-old son, who was born in China and is a dual U.S.-Chinese citizen, the complaint stated. The 2014 custody agreement doesn’t allow either party to travel outside of the United States without “express written and notarized consent of the other party, provided in advance of the trip,” according to the complaint.
In an interview with law enforcement after being removed from the flight, Liu admitted violating the custody order by removing her son from the United States without his father’s consent, according to the complaint.
She made her first appearance in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia on Friday and has a bond hearing scheduled for Monday.
After the aircraft returned to Dulles, United assigned a new crew due to crew flight time limits, and the flight departed again for Beijing at 7:47 pm ET, the United spokesperson said.
CNN’s initial attempts to reach a representative for Liu were not successful.
It’s a federal crime in the United States for parents to take or attempt to take their children out of the United States or keep them out of the country to obstruct another parent’s custodial rights. But while federal authorities may prosecute one parent, they can’t necessarily return a child who is already outside the country to the other parent.
About one quarter of the 1,800 to 2,000 annual missing children reports received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are for international parental abductions, according to Maureen Heads, a supervisor in the center’s missing children division.
The U.S. Department of State tries to return kidnapped children through negotiation, sometimes made easier if the other country is also a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction. The United States and more than 70 other countries have signed the convention, but it only applies if both countries involved are signatories.
“That leaves many countries where there is no partner” for the United States to negotiate with, said Heads. “It can be a real challenge at times for parents.”
China is not a signatory to the convention, which Heads said could have made it harder for the father in the United Airlines case to get his child back.
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