A man on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston is accused of attempting to open an emergency exit while the aircraft was in flight and then stabbing a flight attendant in the neck with a shank made from a broken metal spoon.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who revealed the accusations against Francisco Severo Torres, 33, of Leominster, Massachusetts, the horrifying occurrence took place on Monday’s United Air aircraft UA2609, which departed Los Angeles International Airport at around 8:47 am.
Prosecutors claim that around 45 minutes prior to landing, an alarm went off in the cockpit warning the pilots that one of the emergency exits, which is located on the starboard side of the aircraft between first class and coach, had been deactivated.
When a flight attendant was sent to check the door, they found that in addition to the slide arming lever being in the disarmed position, the door locking handle had also been turned around and moved to the unlocked position by about a quarter of the way.
Man tries to stab flight attendant, open door tackled by passengers. pic.twitter.com/V15tiEjI0u
— Mark Jaxon (@MarkK24061909) March 7, 2023
Although if the pressurization of the aircraft (and, in certain cases, speed-activated door locks) prevents opening an emergency exit at high altitudes, tampering with the locking handle and slide arming lever can still harm and impede an emergency evacuation.
Torress had been noticed hanging around the door earlier in the flight, and one of the flight attendants decided to confront him. This led the flight attendants to inform FBI investigators that they suspected Torress.
The flight attendant reportedly became concerned for the safety of the plane when Torres allegedly inquired about security camera evidence of him messing with the door. As crew members watched the door, the flight attendant called the pilots to alert them to their suspicions.
“Shortly thereafter, it is alleged that Torres got out of his seat and approached the starboard side door where two flight attendants were standing in the aisle,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said on Tuesday.
Torres mouthed something at the flight attendants and then allegedly “thrust towards one of the flight attendants in a stabbing motion with a broken metal spoon, hitting the flight attendant on the neck area three times”.
When police enforcement arrived at the aircraft in Boston, passengers rushed to the aid of the flight attendants and managed to detain and restrain Torres.
Torres has been accused of utilizing a deadly weapon, interfering with flight crew members, and attempting to interfere with them. If proven guilty, the maximum term that might be given to him is life in jail.
Investigators learned from witnesses on board the flight that Torres had been looking through the passenger safety card and asking his seatmates where the door handle was. Torres had also been observed walking around one of the galleys on board the Boeing 757 just prior to the suspected stabbing of the flight attendant.
In a statement, a United spokesperson hailed the “quick action” of crew and customers who managed to restrain the assailant after they presented a “security concern”.
“The flight landed safely and was met by law enforcement. No serious injuries were reported,” the statement continued. “We have zero tolerance for any type of violence on our flights, and this customer will be banned from flying on United pending an investigation. We are cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation.”