NEW YORK, May 20 — The US military yesterday scrambled two Air Force fighter jets to escort an American Airlines flight into Honolulu International Airport after a disturbance involving a Turkish passenger aboard the plane was reported, officials said.
The nature of the fracas was not immediately disclosed by the FBI, the military or American Airlines, but local news media reported a passenger had tried to force his way into the cockpit of Honolulu-bound Flight 31 from Los Angeles.
The man was subdued by an off-duty law enforcement officer and others aboard the aircraft, and the flight landed safely at 11:35am Hawaii time, officials said. No injuries were reported.
Federal authorities were preparing a criminal complaint to charge Turkish national Anil Uskanil, 25, with interference with a flight crew, Federal Bureau of Investigation special-agent-in charge Paul Delacourt said at a Honolulu news conference.
Delacourt, when asked by a reporter if Uskanil tried to break into the cockpit, said the Turkish man was in the aisle of the plane and it was “unclear what his motivation was”.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) police said separately that Uskanil had been detained, questioned and released hours earlier after he was caught by security there going through a terminal concourse door leading out to the airfield.
Los Angeles airport police spokesman Rob Pedregon said Uskanil was a ticketed American Airlines passenger with a boarding pass who had cleared security screening but claimed that he lost his way because he was tipsy from drinking.
As he did not appear to meet the criteria for public drunkenness, police let him go with a citation for misdemeanour trespassing, Pedregon said. He was escorted to the street in front of the terminal when released, Pedregon said.
Because the LAX incident occurred at about 2:45am Pacific time, nearly three hours before the first flights of the day, he would have had ample time to get through security again and catch a plane to Hawaii as scheduled.
Pedregon said it is not unusual for LAX passengers to mistakenly go through an unauthorized exit door at the terminal.
American Airlines said its Honolulu-bound flight, an Airbus A321, was carrying 181 passengers and six crew members.
One passenger who spoke to HawaiiNewsNow, a consortium of three television network affiliates, said a first-class flight attendant deserved much of the credit for preventing the suspect from reaching the cockpit.
“I would just never want to go against her. She was tasked with keeping him out of there, and she did a great job,” Lee Lorenzen told the news outlet.
The incident prompted Pacific Command to dispatch a pair of F-22 fighter jets to intercept the passenger plane.
“The F-22s escorted the airliner to the airport in accordance with homeland defence procedures. Local law enforcement responded once the civilian airliner was on the ground,” said command spokesman Dave Benham said. — Reuters