A United Airlines flight made a U-turn in the sky after a passenger ran toward the cockpit screaming “jihad, jihad,” according to a government official with direct knowledge of the incident.
There is nothing, so far, in the man’s background to suggest he has a connection to terrorists, the government source said. His mental state at the time is unknown, and no weapons were found after he was subdued.
Still, his words are alarming, coming at a time when the United States and its allies have been targeted by Islamist extremist groups like ISIS, and with memories of the September 11, 2001, hijackings of four U.S. commercial airliners still etched in many Americans’ minds.
The incident started shortly after United Flight 1074 took off around 10:15 p.m. Monday from Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington.
The Boeing 737 jet was supposed to take its 33 passengers and six crew members to Denver, but was turned back because the unnamed passenger “failed to comply with crew instructions,” United Airlines spokesman Luke Punzenberger said.
The pilots told air traffic controllers that after the passenger began acting violently, other passengers subdued him, according to LiveATC.net, which provides audio of air traffic control transmissions.
“He ran forward towards the cockpit, and he is being restrained by passengers,” one of the pilots said. “The cockpit is secure, and we would just like to return to the airport and have the authorities meet him.”
A cell phone video shows the man, bruised on his face, held down by other passengers.
At one point, he pleads, “Please stop, please stop, they said call it off.” At another, the man seems to cry as he says, “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t move,” one passenger says, apparently trying to calm the man. “You’re OK. We’re going to get you off this plane, buddy.”
The plane landed back at Dulles around 10:40 p.m., said Kimberly Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs the northern Virginia airport.
Airport police took the unruly passenger off the plane, and airport firefighter-EMTs transported him to a nearby hospital, according to Gibbs.
As of late Tuesday morning, the passenger had not been arrested or charged with a crime, the airports authority spokeswoman added.
By then, the other passengers — none of whom was injured — had been rebooked on new Denver-bound flights. Some opted to take the first flight to Colorado on Tuesday, while others chose to leave later, according to Punzenberger, the United spokesman.