Delta passenger fought to open exit door during flight

SEATTLE • A Delta Air Lines passenger has been charged with instigating a midair brawl with flight attendants and other passengers who fought desperately to restrain him as he tried opening the exit door of a plane bound from Seattle to China.

Joseph Daniel Hudek IV, 23, of Tampa, Florida, was arrested on Thursday when the Boeing 767-300, with 221 people on board, flew back to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for an unscheduled landing two hours after take-off.

The plane was turned around due to an in-flight altercation detailed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in an affidavit filed the next day as part of the criminal complaint against Hudek, who was a first-class passenger on the flight.

According to the FBI, the incident began when Hudek lunged for an exit door at the front of the plane, grabbed the handle and tried to open it, prompting a scuffle with crew members and passengers who battled to subdue him. In the course of the disturbance, the FBI said, Hudek repeatedly punched a flight attendant and a passenger, and persisted in trying to pull open the door, even as a second flight attendant struck him over the head with two large wine bottles. Both flight attendants were women.

Hudek was finally restrained with zip ties as several passengers joined the fray, but not before he managed to pull the door lever halfway to the open position, the FBI said. The affidavit made no mention of what might have precipitated the melee.

According to the FBI, Hudek had been served a beer but showed no sign of intoxication.

The plane landed safely, and the two individuals punched during the struggle were treated for facial injuries, according to the affidavit.

Hudek appeared on Friday in US district court in Seattle, where he was presented the complaint charging one count of interfering with a flight crew, a felony offence punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

He was ordered to remain in federal custody without bail pending a July 13 detention hearing, according to a spokesman for the US Attorney's Office in Seattle.

The incident came weeks after a similar incident on board an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, in which a Turkish passenger tried to force his way towards the plane's cockpit, triggering a bomb scare that prompted the US military to scramble fighter jets to escort the plane to its landing.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline 'Delta passenger fought to open exit door during flight'. Print Edition | Subscribe