American Airlines Flight 4817 pilot makes emergency landing in New York over 'suspicious person'

A pilot made an emergency landing in New York after reporting "a suspicious person has an item that looks like an explosive device" over the weekend, although a subsequent investigation found the passenger posed no danger.

Passengers onboard American Flight 4817 are said to have screamed as it came into land at La Guardia Airport on Saturday (local time).

Fawad Khuja told The New York Times the plane was full of people yelling and screaming about the man with "a suspicious device".

The emergency slides were deployed and passengers exited onto the tarmac, where the man in question was pushed to the ground and arrested.

"The lady next to him was talking to him the whole time and telling him not to do it," Khuja said. 

The incident was confirmed by a spokesperson for Republic Airways who said the emergency was declared "in response to passenger behaviour near the end of the flight".

Republic Airways is a subsidiary airline which operates some American Airlines flights.

"Our crew responded to the situation in accordance with our procedures and with professionalism and a concern for safety of all aboard," the spokesperson said. 

"Law enforcement and first responders met the aircraft, and the passenger involved in the incident has been taken into custody."

The Port Authority of New York said the aircraft had between 76 and 78 passengers onboard, as well as four to six crew members. 

However, investigations following the incident have determined there was no criminal activity and the man may have been simply attempting to get his bag from the overhead locker.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said the incident "was an example of a 'See Something, Say Something' situation": An ongoing campaign in the US encouraging people to speak up when they notice something suspicious.

The TSA also appeared to downplay the incident in a statement, saying the pilot "took the precaution of parking away from the terminal".

A recording of air traffic control communications reveals the aircraft was just moments from landing when pilots became aware of a situation unfolding behind them.

"Tower, Brickyard 48... 4817, we're declaring an emergency, we have a situation here, where a suspicious person has an item that looks like an explosive device," the pilot said to airport controllers.

"Yeah, we're gonna be evacuating and just have the passengers just be safe from the aircraft, because we don't know what this person has. Everyone else is scared on this aircraft."

The man has since been released from custody and will face no further action.