LEOMINSTER, MASS. (WHDH) - A 33-year-old Leominster man who is facing charges after allegedly trying to stab a flight attendant and open an emergency exit door while on board a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston also tried to attack two guards at a Rhode Island detention center, according to 7NEWS sources.
Francisco Severo Torres, 33, was taken to the Wyatt Detention Center in Rhode Island on Tuesday after being charged with one count of interference and attempted interference with flight crew members and attendants using a dangerous weapon.
Officials said the initial incident happened aboard a plane on Sunday. Officials said the flight crew received an alarm roughly 45 minutes before landing, alerting them that a side door had been disarmed.
“Upon inspection, a flight attendant found that the door’s locking handle had been moved out of the fully locked position – approximately a quarter of the way towards the unlocked position – and that the emergency slide arming lever had been moved to the ‘disarmed’ position,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Officials said a fellow flight attendant witnessed Torres near the door, saying he believed Torres tampered with it.
When confronted, officials said Torres allegedly responded by asking if there were cameras showing the incident.
Officials said a flight attendant told the plane’s captain “that they believed Torres posed a threat to the aircraft and that the captain needed to land the aircraft as soon as possible.”
Officials said Torres soon got out of his seat, allegedly thrusting toward a flight attendant with a broken metal spoon and hitting them in the “neck area” three times before passengers tackled and restrained him with help from the flight crew.
According to court documents, Torres told officials he believed the flight attendant was trying to kill him.
Footage shot by passenger shows Torres grow increasingly agitated before attempting to open door
Leading up to the alleged assault and tackling, video filmed by a passenger showed Torres screaming from his seat, entering the aisle as he screamed “I will kill every man on this plane.”
“Where are they diverting us because wherever it is, there’s gonna be a bloodbath everywhere,” the suspect was filmed yelling. “Where’s the Homeland Security with the gun because I’m waiting for them to point the gun at me so I can show everybody that I won’t die when I take every bullet in that clip.”
Passenger Lisa Olsen described how attempts to talk Torres down were met with hostility and appeared to only agitate the 33 year old further.
“About 30 minutes before we were landing, I heard, you know, a commotion – he was getting louder,” Olsen said. “I didn’t see a weapon in his hand at that point, but – my husband was in the aisle seat so he was standing right next to my husband.”
Olsen was able to film the ordeal, including passengers and crew members tackling the suspect.
According to the passenger, Torres was later able to break out of the zip ties crew members placed him in at one point, prompting the group to continuously keep the suspect pinned.
“I think he was so out of control – I don’t know if they didn’t get them on tight enough, I don’t know exactly what happened if he busted out of them,” she said. “Once we knew that there were only one additional set of zip ties left, people were sending up their belts to help restrain him.”
Derek Porter, who spoke with a witness after the incident, described how one of the men who made the initial tackle was also the person who helped keep Torres restrained even as the plane landed.
“The guy that had kind of like bloody knuckles, he was the guy that tackled the perpetrator,” he told 7NEWS. “He also tackled him about 30-40 minutes before the plane landed, so he wasn’t even buckled in or anything – he was on top of the guy with his knee on his neck while the plane was landing.”
In a statement, United commended the efforts of all onboard.
“Thanks to the quick action of our crew and customers, one customer was restrained after becoming a security concern on United flight 2609 from Los Angeles to Boston,” the airline said.
The airline said the flight landed safely and was met by law enforcement and that no serious injuries were reported.
“We have zero tolerance for any type of violence on our flights, and this customer will be banned from flying on United pending an investigation,” United said.
Torres was arrested Sunday evening at Logan International Airport and detained pending a subsequent hearing following an initial court appearance on Monday. He is due back in court on March 9.
Since Sunday’s incident, there has been another incident aboard a flight that passengers had to break up as well.
The incident happened on a Southwest flight from Dallas where two men were fighting in the air.
Now, the Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing the flight attendants who were at risk in both of these situations, is asking the FAA to help keep workers safe, saying in a statement that “violence has no place anywhere and certainly not in a closed cabin flying several miles in the air.”
“Aviation’s first responders are charged with the safety of everyone onboard,” the union said. “When incidents like this happen, it not only risks the safety of the crew involved, it takes away from flight attendants’ ability to respond to medical, safety or security emergencies.”
“Bottom line: it puts everyone at risk and there’s zero tolerance for that,” the union continued.
Flight attendants are now pushing for a national banned disruptive passenger list that is shared between airlines to prevent incidents like this from reoccurring.
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