Flight makes emergency landing after passenger tries to enter cockpit

An American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, made a quick emergency landing in Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday afternoon after an unruly passenger attempted to break into the cockpit and then d open a way out, witnesses said.

The passenger was overpowered 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 encountered the plane. Charles A. Dayoub, an FBI special agent in charge in Kansas City, said in a declaration that the passenger was taken into custody after “interfering with the flight crew”.

Stacy Day, a spokeswoman for the airline, said 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 dozed off while sitting behind the first-class section when the plane’s lights suddenly came back on. He took off his headphones and noticed a struggle between the flight attendants and a passenger at the front of the plane. A nearby passenger enlisted Mr. Rojas, an Air Force reservist, to assist the flight attendants.

The man at the center of the altercation, who appeared to be middle-aged, appeared distraught and paranoid, Mr Rojas said. Earlier in the flight, he added, others saw the passenger pacing the aisles.

“When I got on, it looked like the guy was trying to open the outer door of the plane to the outside,” Mr Rojas said. “So we were kind of stopping him from doing that and just trying to get him under control and make sure he was down and everyone was okay.”

Mouaz Moustafa, a passenger from Washington, described a chaotic scene as the plane began to descend into Kansas City without warning after the struggle with the passenger.

He said the man tried to enter the cockpit and then exit through the main door before being held back by several passengers.

“A flight attendant ran to the back of the plane and took the coffee maker and keeps hitting the guy on the head,” Moustafa said in an interview as the plane was held on the tarmac. The man was “bleeding profusely”, he added.

“Honestly, I thought today that I might die,” he said.

In the end, it took three flight attendants and three passengers, including Mr Rojas, to restrain the man, move him to the ground and then bind his hands and ankles with duct tape and zip ties supplied by flight attendants, Mr. Rojas said. The passenger remained on the ground for about 15 minutes until the plane landed and authorities picked him up, Rojas said.

As Mr Moustafa, 37, was questioned by telephone from his seat, the pilot came over and spoke to passengers about how the man had tried and failed to open the cockpit door.

Flight disruptions have increased during the coronavirus pandemic, and many incidents have involved passengers who disagree with mask mandates.

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration conducted more than 1,000 investigations into 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 men rushing into the first class section. She couldn’t see what was going on, she said, but the commotion and subsequent plane descent was frightening and “extremely stressful”.

“I need a drink and I’m so grateful,” Ms Alston said in a text message after the plane landed in Kansas City.

She said passengers were waiting on the plane as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents conducted interviews with witnesses.

Then, invited to disembark, passengers waited about three hours at the Kansas City airport, relaxing from their tense shared experience and celebrating the three passengers who stepped in.

Mr. Rojas and other passengers huddled around a small television by a bar, relaxing and watching the Super Bowl, “just making the best of the situation,” he said.

Three hours later they were back on the plane to Washington.

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