Passenger tried to open door during flight and attacked attendant, US says
By Michael Levenson and Jesús Jiménez
A passenger on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston was arrested Sunday after he tried to open an emergency exit door while the plane was in flight and then attempted to stab a flight attendant in the neck with a broken spoon, authorities said.
The passenger, Francisco Severo Torres, 33, of Leominster, Massachusetts, was arrested after other passengers tackled him and the flight landed safely at Boston Logan International Airport, authorities said.
Torres was charged with one count of interference and attempted interference with flight crew members and attendants using a dangerous weapon. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
He made an initial appearance Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston, and was detained until a hearing Thursday, prosecutors said. The federal public defender who represented him did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
United Airlines said in a statement that “thanks to the quick action of our crew and customers, one customer was restrained after becoming a security concern,” on Flight 2609. No serious injuries were reported, the airline said.
“We have zero tolerance for any type of violence on our flights, and this customer will be banned from flying on United pending an investigation,” the airline said, adding that it was cooperating with the investigation.
Flight 2609 left Los Angeles about 8:20 a.m. and was about 45 minutes from Boston when an alarm in the cockpit warned that a side door between the first class and coach sections had been disarmed, a Boston Police detective assigned to an FBI task force wrote in a sworn statement filed in court.
A flight attendant who went to investigate found that the locking handle on the door had been moved about one-fourth of the way toward the unlocked position, the statement said. The arming lever for the emergency slide had also been moved to the “disarmed” position, the statement said.
A flight attendant reported that he had seen Torres near the door and believed that he had tampered with it, the statement said. The flight attendant confronted him about tampering with the door, and Torres responded by asking if there were cameras showing that he had done so, the statement said.
The flight attendant notified the captain that he believed that Torres posed a threat to the airplane and that the captain needed to land the plane as soon as possible, the statement said.
Shortly after that, Torres got out of his seat and approached two flight attendants who were standing in an aisle, the statement said. One of the flight attendants saw Torres mouth something that he could not hear, the statement said.
Torres was holding a “shiny object,” which he later said was the handle of a metal spoon that he had broken in half in the airplane’s bathroom, the statement said.
When he got close to one of the flight attendants, he thrust the spoon handle toward that crew member in a “stabbing motion,” the statement said. The flight attendant felt Torres’ hand hit him on the shirt collar and tie three times, the statement said.
Passengers tackled Torres, and he was “restrained with the assistance of flight crew,” the statement said.
After the plane landed and Torres was arrested, he told investigators that he “had gotten the idea to open the emergency exit door and jump out of the plane,” the statement said.
Torres told investigators that after he was confronted by flight attendants, he had tried to stab one of them because “he believed the flight attendant was trying to kill him, so he was trying to kill the flight attendant first,” the statement said.
Torres had been admitted in April 2015 to the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital, a hospital run by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, under a court order for a psychiatric evaluation, according to documents from a lawsuit that he filed against the hospital in 2021.
Torres had argued in the lawsuit that the hospital had misdiagnosed his severe spinal pain from a car accident as a mental disorder. The case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.