A Frontier Airlines flight passenger who allegedly boarded the plane with two box cutters and was seen acting erratically was taken into custody after an emergency landing on Friday evening, according to the airline and the Transportation Security Administration.
Several passengers on the flight, including military veterans and a former law enforcement officer, helped crew members subdue the man after he landed, according to eyewitnesses.
The flight was en route to Tampa from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport when it was diverted to Atlanta “after a passenger on the plane was observed in possession of a cutter,” said Frontier in a press release.
The TSA said in a statement on Saturday that the plane was diverted around 9:30 p.m. “after a disturbance involving a disruptive passenger, in possession of a box cutter, was reported”. After a search, a second box cutter was found in the unidentified passenger’s carry-on, according to the TSA.
Atlanta police assisted federal partners in detaining the suspect, Atlanta Police Department spokesman Officer John Predmore said. Predmore directed further questions to the FBI, which is investigating.
The FBI declined to comment and instead referred ABC News to the TSA statement.
No injuries to passengers or crew were reported, the airline said. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is also investigating, said the plane landed safely “after the crew declared an emergency due to an unruly passenger”.
Before the emergency landing, several passengers noticed the man acting erratically, eyewitnesses said.
Passenger Ben Mutz told ABC News he spoke to the person who sat by the window next to the man after he disembarked. The passenger told Mutz that the man ‘pointed a knife at me and said, ‘I want to kill or I want to stab people,’” Mutz said.
Larry Cumberbatch sat in the third row, flying from Cincinnati to Tampa to visit his son for his birthday. He told ABC News that a woman who was initially seated in an aisle seat next to the man said she saw “some kind of knife” and was afraid for her safety.
Flight attendants asked if anyone had a military or police background and would change seats or go to the back of the plane, he said. Cumberbatch, a Navy veteran, volunteered to switch seats with the woman, he said.
At the rear of the plane, Cumberbatch found the man leaning against the passenger in the window seat, his feet in the aisle seat, before getting up to go to the bathroom.
When the man came out of the bathroom, he confronted Cumberbatch in the aisle, in what Cumberbatch described as a “confrontation”.
“People there, you could literally see they were scared. That’s why I stood there, to give them a calming presence and let this guy know there’s someone watching, someone you’ll have to deal with if you take it to the next level,” Cumberbatch said.
Cumberbatch said a former law enforcement officer spoke to the man upon landing to calm him down.
Once the plane landed, passengers were asked to leave without taking any of their belongings, according to Mutz. He said he and others didn’t know they had made an emergency landing until they turned on their phones and realized they were in Atlanta.
Cumberbatch and an army veteran remained on the plane as the former officer helped escort the man down the aisle, he said. When officers arrived, the man “got agitated” and the former officer gave him a warning before tackling him, Cumberbatch said.
“In my mind, he was really the hero at that time,” Cumberbatch said.
The man was later taken into police custody, according to Cumberbatch, who said he spoke to FBI agents after the incident.
Cumberbatch said he “wasn’t surprised” the veterans responded in the moment.
“We will take control of any situation we find ourselves in,” he said.
The flight passengers were accommodated at the hotel and rebooked on a new flight to Tampa on Saturday morning.
Box cutters are prohibited in the cabin, but permitted in checked baggage.
The TSA said it was conducting an internal review of the incident and would review surveillance footage and “airport security checkpoint processes/operations.”
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