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Flight 253 hero recounts thwarting Christmas bombing attempt

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Hero of the flight
  • Jasper Schuringa subdued man accused of trying to blow up plane
  • Schuringa says he knew something was wrong when man was sitting still while on fire
  • Investigators: Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab may have ties to al Qaeda terror group

(CNN) -- The seven-hour flight from the Netherlands to Michigan had been uneventful. Passengers bided time watching movies or trying to catch shut eye.

But as Northwest Flight 253 made its final approach to Detroit on Christmas, the actions of one man put at risk the lives of nearly 300 passengers on the jetliner -- and the quick thinking of another helped prevent disaster.

Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch filmmaker, appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" for a second time Tuesday night, recounting how he and others subdued an al Qaeda-linked suspect from detonating explosives that the man had attached to his underwear.

That suspect, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, is now charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft in a plot that the militant group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has claimed responsibility for. A senior administration official said late Tuesday that new information suggests the 23-year-old Nigerian man's plot may indeed have had ties to the group.

"First, I thought it just might be a crazy guy to actually carry a firecracker onto the airplane," Schuringa said Tuesday night. "It came as quite a shock when I heard he had ties to al Qaeda."

From Detroit, Schuringa had a connecting flight before his final destination: a vacation with friends in Miami, Florida.

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  • Air Travel
  • Al Qaeda
  • Terrorism

As the plane neared Detroit, Schuringa said, he heard what sounded like a firecracker going off.

"First, it was just 'bang,'" he said. "And you're trying to look around, like where's this bang coming from."

Immediately afterward, someone screamed "Fire!"

Schuringa said he noticed a man on the left side of the aisle, sitting still while on fire.

"A normal person would stand up, and he wasn't standing up," he said. "So then I knew, this guy is trying to do something."

Schuringa said he jumped over the passenger next to him, reached across the aisle and lunged for the suspect, now identified as AbdulMutallab.

View timeline of bombing suspect

"He was getting on fire. And he was still holding the device, the bomb," Schuringa said. "And he was still holding it in his hands. And I had to, like, rip the bomb out of his hands."

Schuringa said the man just stared at him, but did not let go of whatever he was holding onto.

In an earlier appearance on "Larry King Live," Schuringa described how he yanked the object from the man, stamped out the fire with his hands and tossed it.

With the help of crew members and other passengers, the man was then taken to the front of the plane, handcuffed and stripped to make sure he wasn't carrying anything else.

Through it all, the man appeared dazed.

"He was staring into nothing," Schuringa said.

Investigators now say AbdulMutallab was allegedly carrying PETN, or pentaerythritol tetranitrate -- enough of it to blow a hole in the aircraft.

But the device he used failed to detonate fully, instead setting off the fire, authorities said.

Part of the explosive device was sewn into the suspect's underwear. FBI agents recovered what appear to be the remnants of a syringe near the seat.

Because the syringe was destroyed, investigators are having trouble determining the accelerant the suspect tried to use to light the explosive.

"When I was interrogated by the FBI, I was trying to think what I was actually holding, because it was very thick," Schuringa said. "It's just like everything just happened in the blink of an eye. But it's quite scary to hold a bomb in your hands. Not something you do every day."

Among the passengers on the Friday flight were Wisconsin native Richelle Keepman and her family. They were returning from Ethiopia with two children they had adopted.

On "Larry King Live" on Tuesday, she called Schuringa a hero.

"We're just so thankful that you did what you did and the other passengers who helped, because your bravery saved us," she said.

Schuringa said his action was just a knee-jerk reaction.

"There's so much going on in your mind, you're not afraid," he said. "You just don't think and just jump."

Keepman said the security at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport was nothing like what she is used to in the United States.

"We walked through and did not have to take our shoes off," she said. "Also, my mother had a water bottle in her bag that she'd completely forgotten about. And it went right through and we didn't realize it until we were on the plane."

Keepman said she hasn't had time to relive the experience as she introduces the adopted children to life in America.

"With the children being home and they're seeing snow for the first time and just so many new things, our focus right now is just on the fact that we're here and we're able to live these moments with them," she said.

However, she remembers one odd detail. Amid the commotion, a man about 10 seats in front of Keepman was capturing it all with a camcorder.

"It was definitely a little out of the ordinary," she said. "I mean, I don't know why he was standing up and we were supposed to be seated and he was filming it."

A person familiar with the investigation told CNN that investigators have pored through tapes that several people shot during the incident. But none has provided anything useful to the investigation, because each was captured after the fire began or has an obstructed view.

Schuringa said he too tries not to think too much about the day.

"Like Richelle, I think we're all happy we're still alive and living for another day," he said. "Of course, for everybody it's quite a big shock that a person like that can try to take out our lives. And that's just unimaginable."