Man Subdued After Disturbance On S.F.-Bound Flight

May 9, 2011

NPR Staff and Wires

A retired police officer and a retired Secret Service agent helped wrestle a man to the cabin floor after he began pounding on the cockpit as an American Airlines flight approached San Francisco, the third security incident in a day on U.S. planes, authorities said Monday.

The man, who had a Yemeni passport, was yelling unintelligibly as he brushed past a flight attendant minutes before American Airlines Flight 1561 was due at San Francisco International Airport on Sunday, according to Sgt. Michael Rodriguez of the San Francisco police. Flight attendants and passengers then tackled the man.

"They were able to get him to ground and a flight attendant put him in plastic handcuffs," Rodriguez told The Associated Press.

The Boeing 737, which reportedly came from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, was carrying 162 people and landed safely at 9:10 p.m.

The man was identified as 28-year-old Rageit Almurisi. He carried a California identification card and the Yemeni passport, but it wasn't clear if his nationality was also Yemeni, Rodriguez said.

Almurisi was charged with interfering with a flight crew, a federal offense. No motive has been established and the officer said he had no information when asked if the disturbance was linked to terrorism.

Rodriguez said that although things have returned to normal at the San Francisco airport, the mood is different after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

"You know, the officers are more aware based on, you know, the facts of that incident and stuff. So yes, I would say that there is just more heightened awareness here," he said.

It was the third disturbance of the day in U.S. airspace.

A Continental Airlines flight from Houston to Chicago diverted in St. Louis after a 34-year-old man from Illinois tried to open a plane door during the flight, officials said.

Continental spokeswoman Julie King said Flight No. 546 landed around 1:30 p.m. and was grounded about an hour before resuming it journey.

FBI and airport police questioned the passenger. No charges have been filed.

Shortly before that, a Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit to San Diego was landed instead in Albuquerque, N.M., because of a security scare but authorities found "no suspicious devices" on the plane, an FBI spokesman said.

Agency spokesman Frank Fisher declined to clarify the nature of the "potential security threat" that caused Flight 1706 to land in New Mexico. He said agents searched the plane and interviewed the crew and 107 passengers before clearing the aircraft to fly again.

Albuquerque International Sunport spokesman Daniel Jiron also declined to say what the potential threat was. No one was arrested.

The flight was diverted at 10 a.m. MDT, and Jiron said it was cleared to fly again around 12:30 p.m.

Joshua Johnson reported from San Francisco for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.