Man in US charged with assault after brandishing razor on flight

The man was on a JetBlue flight from Kennedy International Airport in New York to Salt Lake City on Nov 21, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - A Utah man was charged with carrying a weapon on an aeroplane and assault with a deadly weapon after he held a razor near the throat of the passenger sitting next to him, US federal prosecutors said this week.

The encounter was the latest example of unruly behaviour that law enforcement officials say has become more common in the skies as airline traffic has picked up after a major decline because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The man, Merrill Darrell Fackrell, 41, of Syracuse, Utah, was on a JetBlue flight from Kennedy International Airport in New York to Salt Lake City on Monday when he put his hand in front of the video screen of the woman sitting next to him and told her to pause her movie, prosecutors said.

The woman took off her headphones and realised that Fackrell was holding what appeared to be a knife – it was later identified as a wood-handled razor with a 1- to 2-inch (2.5-5cm) blade – inches from her throat, said the US Attorney’s Office for Utah.

According to a complaint filed in US District Court in Utah, Fackrell, who was sitting in the window seat, then stood up and started yelling: “She’s going to be OK. No one needs to worry.”

He also told the woman’s husband, who was sitting in the aisle seat, to “get out of there”, punctuating the demand with an expletive, according to court documents.

The woman’s husband went to the front of the aircraft to find a flight attendant, and the woman lunged for the aisle to escape while Fackrell tried unsuccessfully to stop her by grabbing her shoulder, according to the complaint.

A passenger who saw the encounter was able to persuade Fackrell to place the razor on the seat next to him. The passenger then grabbed the razor before sitting next to Fackrell for the rest of the flight.

According to the complaint, Fackrell, who had “a long and varied” conversation with the woman before the encounter, consumed several alcoholic drinks.

A lawyer listed for Fackrell did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages on Thursday.

The charges against Fackrell came as airline crews continued to face an unusually high number of disruptions since the start of the pandemic. In 2019, 146 investigations were initiated into unruliness on planes. As of Nov 1, there have been 767 such investigations in 2022, according to data from the US Federal Aviation Administration.

In September, a California man was charged with interference with flight crew members after he was captured on video punching an American Airlines flight attendant during a flight from Mexico to Los Angeles. In May, a woman who repeatedly punched a Southwest Airlines flight attendant in 2021, bloodying her face and chipping three of her teeth, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, prosecutors said.

It was not immediately clear how Fackrell had been able to get the razor onto the plane. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which has authority over security and passenger screening at US airports, said it was working with federal prosecutors, the FBI and the Salt Lake City police on Fackrell’s case.

The agency is “introducing new X-ray technology at more airports to improve our capability to better detect items such as the one used in this incident”, the TSA said. “We commend the actions of the flight attendants and other passengers on this flight.” NYTIMES

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