Traveler Charged in Disrupting Flight to Va.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
A professional jujitsu fighter from Brazil sat in a Loudoun County jail yesterday on a felony charge that he tried to open the cabin door of a Dulles-bound airliner as it cruised at 30,000 feet over Tennessee.
Carlos Alberto de Oliveira, 43, missed his appearance in court yesterday morning because he fought with sheriff's deputies who came to escort him, Loudoun authorities said. He is expected to be arraigned today on a state charge of interfering with an aircraft's operations.
Federal and state authorities outlined a potentially terrifying scenario in which de Oliveira walked up and down the aisle of United Airlines Flight 890 from Los Angeles on Tuesday night. He then allegedly yanked the handle of the cabin door before passengers swarmed him and federal air marshals took him into custody. The flight landed at Dulles International Airport at 8:30 p.m.
Although de Oliveira's motivations were unclear, federal officials have ruled out terrorism and concluded after interviewing him that he did not intend any harm.
"He didn't threaten anyone, he didn't hurt anyone. He wasn't intending to open the door, he didn't kick it," said Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington field office. "He just pulled a stupid stunt."
A lawyer had not been appointed for de Oliveira, who was being held at the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center. If convicted, he would face up to five years in prison.
Weierman said de Oliveira is a professional jujitsu competitor, and he listed his occupation on his booking sheet as "professional fighter." Brazilian jujitsu is a form of the ancient martial art that has been gaining popularity in Northern Virginia in recent years.
The United flight took off with 138 passengers and six crew members, said Megan McCarthy, a United spokeswoman. About 3 1/2 hours into the flight, she said, "a passenger, for whatever reason, did attempt to open an exit door" at the rear of the aircraft.
Passenger Ken Wolfenbarger said he noticed a man fiddling with gadgets stashed in his pocket while he stood in the aisle. He then whipped out a long black belt with two metal hooks on either end and wrapped them around his fists, Wolfenbarger said.
Wolfenbarger said the man was dressed in a heavy camouflage jacket, fatigues and dark wraparound glasses, but FBI officials said de Oliveira was not wearing camouflage when he was interviewed.
Suddenly, Wolfenbarger said, the man turned down the aisle toward the plane's rear galley. "I heard a ruckus, and then the airline stewardess started yelling, 'Please help us! Help us! Help us!' " said Wolfenbarger, 44, of Whittier, Calif. "As soon as I heard that, I climbed over the other seat to the aisle. I knew the plane was in trouble, and I said, 'I am not going to die on this flight.' "
Weierman said the door would not open because the cabin is pressurized. Officials concurred that de Oliveira had been acting in an odd manner before the incident, walking up and down the aisle.