The Amarillo Globe-News reports on a tense encounter aboard a Southwest Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale:
“You’re all going to die,” a man dressed in black screamed at passengers Tuesday afternoon. “You’re all going to hell. Allahu Akbar,” translated as God is great in Arabic.
Federal authorities arrested Ali Reza Shahsavari, 29, of Indialantic, Fla., onboard the Boeing 737 after pilots made an emergency landing at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport at 3:30 p.m. He is being held in the Randall County jail on a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew.
None of the 136 passengers and five crew members on the flight from Los Angeles to Kansas City was hurt, said Brad Hawkins, spokesman for Dallas-based Southwest.
The FBI describes Shahsavari as “a U.S. citizen who might have experienced an episode of mental illness” and “sort of lost control of himself.” That’s putting it mildly:
Police said the incident began with Shahsavari arguing with another passenger. The flight crew separated the men, said Amarillo police Cpl. Jerry Neufeld.
Shahsavari went into a bathroom and yelled obscenities from the rear of the plane, said passenger Doug Oerding, of Sacramento, Calif. Attendants tried to calm Shahsavari before a female flight attendant finally succeeded in quieting him. Oerding said.
As the tension mounted, the aircraft began to gain speed and descend, Oerding said. The slender Navy veteran said he put his shoes back on in preparation to act.
“All of us guys were looking at him like, ‘Are we going to have to do something?’” Oerding said after finishing a cigarette outside the Amarillo terminal while waiting to reboard the plane.
Amarillo Aviation Director Patrick Rhodes said an emergency call was placed about 3:30 p.m. to the control tower at Rick Husband. The caller initially reported a male passenger was attempting to break into the cockpit, Rhodes said. Amarillo police said the call came from the cockpit.
Aviation authorities now say Shahsavari never actually tried to break into the cockpit. Why did they make that initial report if Shahsavari was hanging out in the lavatory and trying to get Allah’s attention from the back of the plane? Did they just assume he’d be banging on the cockpit door next?
Shahsavari was arrested without incident after plane made its emergency landing in Amarillo. The Associated Press says he’s been charged with “interfering with a flight crew.” A police spokesman said he didn’t know if there was an air marshal on the flight, but based on the account of a flight attendant talking the madman down, it doesn’t sound like there was.