Police Investigate Amsterdam-to-US Sandwich Needles

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) - Police at Amsterdam's Schiphol
Airport have opened a criminal investigation into how needles got
into turkey sandwiches served to passengers on Delta Air Lines
flights from Amsterdam to the United States, a spokesman said
Tuesday. The FBI also is investigating the incidents.

Delta said what appear to be sewing needles were found in five
sandwiches on Sunday. One passenger on a flight to Minneapolis was injured. The other needles were on two flights to Atlanta and one
to Seattle.

"We are keeping all options open because at this moment we have
no idea why somebody or something put needles inside the sandwiches so that is what we have to investigate," airport police spokesman Robert van Kapel told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The sandwiches were made in the Amsterdam kitchen of catering
company Gate Gourmet. The company's listed address in the
Netherlands is in the Schiphol area, where the Dutch capital's
airport is based.

Tjitte Mastenbroek, a spokesman for the Dutch government's Food
and Consumer Product Safety Authority, said the agency also was
investigating "from a food safety point of view." He said the
agency would share its findings with the criminal investigation. He
declined to give more detail, citing the ongoing investigation.

Gate Gourmet's website calls the company "the world's largest
independent provider of catering and provisioning services for
airlines and railroads," with 122 flight kitchens serving 250
million meals each year and 9,700 flights per day. The company was
founded in 1992 to cater Swissair flights and grew by taking over
other airline caterers including that of British Airways. It went
into private ownership in 2003 and was listed on the Swiss SIX
Exchange in 2009.

The company issued a statement Monday saying, "We take this
matter very seriously, and we have launched our own full-scale
investigation." It also said it was "heightening our already
stringent safety and security procedures, to prevent any
recurrence."

The company also said it is "treating this as a criminal act"
and stressed it is "cooperating fully with investigations by local
and federal authorities and by our customer."

Dutch authorities have no indication the incident is linked to
terrorism and Van Kapel said he had no information on whether there
had been any blackmail threats made to the airline or catering
company.

The FBI said its Atlanta office has opened a criminal investigation.

Passenger Jim Tonjes of Plymouth, Minnesota, told the Star
Tribune newspaper that he felt a sharp poke in his mouth after
biting into his sandwich.

"I figured it might be a toothpick," he said. But instead it was a one inch (2.5 centimeter) needle that had punctured the roof of his mouth.

"It looked like a sewing needle but without an eye. ... I was
in shock," he told the newspaper. "I thought, `Oh, my God.' It's
the last thing you expect in a sandwich."

Delta spokeswoman Kristin Baur said Monday that flight
attendants stopped serving the sandwiches as soon as the needle was discovered. Messages went out to other flights en route from
Amsterdam. Another sandwich served on the Minneapolis-bound flight
also had a needle, Baur said.

After the needles were found, passengers got pizza instead.

Baur said security for its meal production has been increased
and it is using more prepackaged food while the investigation
continues.

"Delta is taking this matter extremely seriously and is cooperating with local and federal authorities who are investigating the incident. Delta has taken immediate action with our in-flight caterer at Amsterdam to ensure the safety and quality of the food we provide onboard our aircraft," the airline said in a written statement.

Benno Baksteen, a former Dutch pilot and aviation safety expert,
said food is transported to aircraft amid tight security, "for
obvious reasons - because people can hide stuff in catering
trolleys."

He said trolleys carrying prepared airline food are sealed in
transport, "so the most likely place where it could have happened
would be in the place where it's manufactured or of course before
it's served, once the trolleys are opened."

Schiphol airport staff referred questions about security
surrounding catering companies to the Dutch Ministry of Security
and Justice, which oversees aviation security. A spokesman at the
ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Ton Scherrenberg, chairman of the VNC union that represents some
7,000 Dutch cabin personnel, told AP that cabin crew check food
trolleys for foreign objects when they open them on board aircraft,
"but you can't check every single sandwich."

He said he knew of no other such incidents at Schiphol in the
past.


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