By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER and MICHAEL BALSAMO, Associated Press
HONOLULU (AP) — A man on a Hawaii-bound flight described as unruly and disheveled was subdued by passengers and a flight attendant who used an airplane drink cart to block him from getting to the front of the jet. He was then immobilized with duct tape in a seat until the plane landed in Honolulu Friday, escorted on the last leg of its journey by two fighter jets.
The man on the plane was identified as Anil Uskanli, 25, of Turkey. He was taken into custody after the plane landed and given a medical evaluation before facing a possible federal charge of interference with a flight crew, Paul Delacourt, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Honolulu office, told reporters in Hawaii.
Passengers among the 181 flying on American Airlines Flight 31 staffed with six crew members took notice of Uskanli before the jet took off from Los Angeles.
Among the first to board were first class passengers Mark and Donna Basden, who found a laptop computer in a seat pocket in front of them.
The couple, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, assumed someone on a previous flight left it there but a flight attendant said it probably belonged to a man who was in the bathroom.
A man Donna Basden described as a “disheveled looking fellow” emerged and Mark Basden gave him the laptop. The man scowled, took the laptop and opened it and closed it and then tried to sit in another first class seat, Mark Basden said.
The man “clearly looked out of place” and was sent to the economy section of the plane after a flight attendant asked to see his boarding pass and told him he would have to go to row 35 at the back of the plane, Donna Basden said.
Halfway through the six-hour flight, the couple saw the same man again holding his laptop with something over his head that they thought was a towel or a blanket.
“He was very quiet, moving very sluggish. He was trying to approach the cabin, like where the captain is,” said another passenger, Grant Arakelian.
At that point, a flight attendant ran down the aisle with her serving cart and blocked the entrance to first class, said passenger Lee Lorenzen, of Orange County, California.
“She jammed the cart in that the doorway and she just said, ‘You’re not coming in here,'” Lorenzen said.
The man pushed the cart, trying to get through but passengers came up behind him and grabbed him. He spent the rest of the flight restrained in a seat with duct tape.
“This unfortunate incident highlights the tremendous professionalism of American’s team members, and specifically, in this situation, our flight attendants,” American Airlines said in a statement.
“Their decisive actions ensured the safety of everyone onboard the flight. We are proud of our crew and are grateful to them for their actions.”
Bob Ross, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, on Saturday said attendants who represent the last line of air travel defense managed to “defuse a high-risk situation”.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was briefed on the midair disturbance, according to a statement from the department. There were no other reports of disruptions, but the department said it monitored all flights Friday as a precautionary measure.
Before he boarded the flight to Hawaii, Uskanli was also arrested at Los Angeles International airport for opening a door that led onto an airfield ramp, according to Los Angeles Airport police.
“He immediately walked up to somebody and said, ‘where can I get something to eat?'” Los Angeles airport spokesman Rob Pedregon said. “He walked right up to somebody. He wasn’t trying to go somewhere or do something illicit.”
Though airport police smelled alcohol on Uskanli’s breath he was not intoxicated enough to be held for public drunkenness, so they cited and released him.
The incident was not that unusual, Pedregon said. “We have all these fire doors and people get confused because they’re walking around, and some people do breach it,” he said.
[Featured Image: (Donna Basden via AP)]
Balsamo reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Andrew Dalton and Amy Taxin in Los Angeles and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu contributed to the story, and AP Airlines Writer David Koenig contributed from Dallas.
This story has been corrected to accurately spell the last name of the suspect in the incident, Anil Uskanli. His name was initially misspelled by airport police.