Flight returns to Dulles airport after disturbance
Chantilly, Va. — A flight headed from Washington to Denver had to return to Dulles International Airport after a pilot told air traffic controllers a passenger had become violent, ran toward the cockpit and had to be restrained by other passengers.
Another passenger on the flight said the man who had to be restrained made references to jihad.
United Airlines spokesman Luke Punzenberger said in an emailed statement that Flight 1074 returned after takeoff Monday evening. Local police met the aircraft at the gate and detained the passenger, he said. His statement did not provide further details about what happened on board the Boeing 737.
Airport spokeswoman Kimberly Gibbs said the passenger was taken to a local hospital for evaluation and has not been charged.
Recordings of communications between pilots and air traffic controllers on the website LiveATC.net indicate pilots turned around after a passenger ran toward the cockpit and had to be restrained.
The pilot, in a calm voice, said he was "declaring an emergency due to a passenger disturbance. He's restrained. We need to return to the airport," according to the LiveATC.net recording.
The pilot later explained that "we had a passenger becoming violent" and that he "ran toward the cockpit."
After being asked by controllers, he reported that the incident was a "Level 2" disturbance, the second lowest level of severity on a four-level scale used by the industry. A Level 2 disturbance indicates physically abusive behavior but no life-threatening behavior.
Curtis Tellam of Superior, Colorado, said his wife, Donna, was on the flight and sent him a text describing the incident as "the scariest moment in my life" and saying "some crazy guy just tried to get into the cockpit."
Curtis Tellam said in a phone interview Tuesday that he called his wife after the plane landed and said he could hear other passengers telling the man to calm down.
He said his wife told him she noticed the man acting strangely before the flight, constantly moving his bag from one overhead bin to the next. Tellam's wife told him that shortly after takeoff, the man ran forward in the cabin, through the first-class cabin where she was sitting and almost to the cockpit before three other passengers stopped and restrained him.
She told her husband the man shouted that there were other jihadists on the plane and that he would give the people who were holding him a lot of money if they would let him go.
"She's tough. She flies a lot … but she's really shaken up," Curtis Tellam said of his wife, who said the man was basically lying at her feet the entire time he was restrained.