The San Juan Daily Star
Flight makes emergency landing after passenger tries to enter cockpit
By Christine Chung and Alyssa Lukpat
An American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., made a rapid emergency landing in Kansas City, Missouri, on Sunday afternoon after an unruly passenger tried to break into the cockpit and then attempted to open an exit door, witnesses said.
The passenger was subdued by crew members and other passengers. He was taken into custody after the flight landed.
In a statement, American Airlines said the flight, American Airlines Flight 1775, landed safely in Kansas City, where law enforcement officials met the plane. Charles A. Dayoub, an FBI special agent in charge in Kansas City, said in a statement that the passenger was taken into custody after “interfering with the flight crew.”
Stacy Day, a spokesperson for the airline, said that the passenger was “ultimately subdued by our crew and with the help of other passengers.”
Carlos Rojas, 33, was among the passengers who intervened. He said he had been dozing off while sitting a row behind the first-class section when the lights in the plane were abruptly turned back on. He took his headphones off and noticed a struggle between flight attendants and a passenger in the front of the plane. A nearby passenger enlisted Rojas, an Air Force reservist, to assist the flight attendants.
The man at the center of the altercation, who appeared to be middle-aged, seemed distraught and paranoid, Rojas said. Earlier in the flight, he added, others saw the passenger pace the aisles.
“When I went up, it looked like the guy was trying to open the exterior door of the plane to the outside,” Rojas said. “So we were kind of keeping him from doing that and just trying to subdue him and make sure that he was taken down and everybody was OK.”
Mouaz Moustafa, a passenger from Washington, described a chaotic scene as the plane started descending into Kansas City without warning after the struggle with the passenger.
He said the man tried to get into the cockpit and then tried to exit via the main door before he was held down by several passengers.
“A flight attendant ran to the back of the plane and got the coffee pot and continues to bash the guy on the head,” Moustafa said in an interview as the plane was being held on the tarmac. The man was “bleeding profusely,” he added.
“I honestly thought today I might die,” he said.
Ultimately, it took three flight attendants and three passengers, including Rojas, to restrain the man, move him to the floor and then bind his hands and ankles with tape and zip ties provided by the flight attendants, Rojas said. The passenger remained on the floor for about 15 minutes until the plane landed and the authorities collected him, Rojas said.
As Moustafa, 37, was being interviewed by phone from his seat, the pilot came by and talked to the passengers about how the man had tried and failed to open the cockpit door.
Disturbances on flights have surged during the coronavirus pandemic, and many of the incidents have involved passengers who disagree with mask mandates.
Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration conducted more than 1,000 investigations of unruly passengers — more than in the previous seven years combined.
Karen Maria Alston, who lives in Washington, said she was sitting in the 17th row of the plane watching the movie “Dune” when she saw some men rush into the first-class section. She was not able to see what was happening, she said, but the commotion and the plane’s ensuing descent were frightening and “extremely stressful.”
“I need a drink and I am so thankful,” Alston said in a text message after the plane landed in Kansas City.
She said that passengers waited on the plane as officers with the FBI conducted interviews with witnesses.
Then, told to disembark, the passengers waited for about three hours in the Kansas City airport, unwinding from their tense shared experience and celebrating the three passengers who intervened.
Rojas and other passengers huddled around a little television by a bar, unwinding and watching the Super Bowl, “just making the best out of the situation,” he said.
Three hours later, they were back on the plane headed to Washington.