Updated 05/09/11 – 4:45 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A flight from Houston to Chicago was diverted to St. Louis on Sunday after an unruly passenger, a 34-year-old Burbank, Ill. man, tried to open a plane door during the flight.
Continental Airlines Flight No. 456 left Houston around 11:45 a.m. and in mid-flight, the passenger became unruly and tried to open a door in the jet’s first-class section, officials and witnesses said. Lambert International Airport spokesman Jeff Lea in St. Louis said the man said he had to get off the plane.
The man widely credited with restraining the unruly passenger is Tony Harris of Houston, 60, a veteran and martial arts practitioner who was flying to Chicago to surprise his mother with a visit.
“I took him from the back,” Harris told CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley a day after the event. “First I put the choke hold on him, but he had a hand on the door already.”
Harris subdued the suspect and bound his hands with plastic cuffs. As the flight was diverted to St. Louis, the crew sat them side by side in first class as the suspect told Harris why he tried to open the door.
“I said, ‘Why today? He said, ‘Mother’s Day,’” Harris said.
Many passengers on the plane did not know what was happening, beyond sensing a commotion.
Passenger Sara Olkon of Chicago heard a scream erupt from first class.
“I assumed the worst, that it was some sort of terrorist attack,” she told CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli.
The flight crew contacted law enforcement officials and the plane was diverted to St. Louis, according to a Continental airlines spokesperson.
The flight landed at about 1:30 p.m. at Lambert International Airport and the passenger was taken into custody. The plane was on the ground for less than an hour before it left for Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a spokesperson said.
The FBI says the incident doesn’t appear terrorism-related. St. Louis television station KMOV reported Monday the disruptive passenger, Reynel C. Alcaide, was charged with two federal offenses: crimes involving aircraft and interference with flight crew members and attendants.
The flight landed at O’Hare at about 3:30 p.m., according to the airline.
Aviation experts say it’s impossible to open a door during flight because of pressurized air in the cabin. That didn’t stop passengers from being terrified. Some insisted on getting off the plane in St. Louis before it continued on to O’Hare Airport.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared. I thought this could be it,” said Olkon, a former Chicago Tribune reporter once embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq.
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