Man Subdued After Disrupting Flight To Chicago
UPDATED 05/09/11 4:45 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS) – Two flights to and from Chicago were disrupted by unruly passengers in a period of 24 hours this weekend.
In the most recent case, flight attendants had to subdue a man on a flight from Chicago to San Francisco overnight, after he began shouting and banging on the cockpit door. In an earlier one, a man tried to open the side door of a plane during a flight.
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Neither incident appears to be terrorism-related. But each one on its own is quite frightening.
As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, on Monday morning at O’Hare, many passengers were just hearing about the incidents. Others were thankful the crews and passengers came together to control the situation.
“You see something that’s not right, and people jump in and the do what they can to help out,” said Teresa Haemmerle of Schaumburg.
“If there’s a question, I prefer safety – you know, a little bit of overreaction, as opposed to not having reaction,” said Lori St. John of Miami, Fla.
In the latest incident, the man, who carries a Yemeni passport, was shouting unintelligibly as he banged on the door on American Airlines Flight 1561.
San Francisco Police Sgt. Michael Rodriguez said the flight was 20 minutes away from landing when the incident happened.
“A passenger onboard that flight actually grabbed onto the door and began yelling,” Rodriguez said.
The man was wrestled to the ground by two passengers and flight attendants, and places in plastic handcuffs.
“The flight attendant asked the passenger to return to his seat,” Rodriguez said. “The passenger refused to return. The flight attendant then physically tried to move him backwards.”
A retired Secret Service agent and a retired police officer are among those who subdued him.
The man is identified as Rageit Almurisi, 28.
Because Almurisi struggled when he was wrestled to the floor, he had apparent abrasions on his body, Rodriguez told KPIX-TV, San Francisco. No other people aboard the flight suffered any injuries.
Members of the San Francisco International Airport Bureau took Almurisi off the plane to San Mateo Hospital for abrasions to his elbow and chin.
Once he was cleared, Almurisi was taken back to the San Francisco Police Department, where he was met by federal agents, officials said.
American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said there was never a breach of security aboard the plane, which left Chicago at 7:05 p.m.. “As always, the door was fully secured and there was no breach of security,” Smith said. “He got nowhere.”
Smith called the American Airlines pilot who assisted, “the leader of the subduing,” saying the uniformed pilot acted quickly to help.
Smith said Almurisi was closely monitored until the plane landed and was uncooperative as he was taken from his seat to the jet bridge.
Almurisi, who was also carrying a California identification card, was charged with interfering with a flight crew, a felony offense, authorities said.
Authorities are continuing their investigation into why he charged the door.
The plane landed safely around 9 p.m. Sunday. None of the 162 passengers was hurt.
The Boeing 737 flight had originated at LaGuardia International Airport in New York, and stopped at O’Hare International Airport on the way to San Francisco.
Police said Almurisi has no clear or known ties to terrorism. Rodriguez told KPIX that authorities have not yet established a motive for why Almurisi got up from his seat and went toward the cockpit door.
That flight, Continental Airlines No. 456, took off from Houston around 11:45 a.m. Sunday. In mid-flight, the passenger got out of his seat and said he had to get off the plane.
Then he tried to open the plane door.
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.
Paige Hoppie was also a passenger aboard the flight. She told the CBS 2 Morning News by phone that the flight was a terrifying experience.
“Everyone always fears the worst, especially when it’s on an airplane,” Hoppie said. “I was terrified. I didn’t know what was going to happen, which is really hard to explain unless you’re there.”
A flight attendant was whimpering, and someone screamed loudly before people on the flight jumped into action, Hoppie said.
Ultimately, several passengers were able to subdue the 34-year-old man, who was from southwest suburban Burbank. The plane was diverted to Lambert International Airport in St. Louis before continuing to Chicago.
The suspect in that case was being held by St. Louis Airport police as of midday Monday.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.