D.C. flight diverted after man tries to open cabin door

By Matt Zapotosky, Martin Weil and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 24, 2010; 5:17 PM

A United Airlines flight from Washington to Las Vegas was diverted to Denver on Saturday night after a passenger walked up the aisle carrying a bag and tried to open a cabin door, according to authorities and a witness.

Other passengers subdued the man, and he was removed from the airplane after the emergency landing in Denver, authorities said. According to one witness, the man told passengers who wrestled him down that he got on the wrong flight and wanted to get out."

United Flight 223, an Airbus, was carrying 129 passengers and a crew of five when it left Dulles International Airport about 3:30 p.m., according to authorities. It landed safely in Denver about 6:45 p.m. Eastern time, and its passengers, except for the man, were put on another plane to Las Vegas.

Sergei Sandou, 41, of Las Vegas said in a phone interview that he was sitting in Row 24 with his brother when they noticed a man carrying a small bag at his stomach making his way toward the front of the plane. The man, nearly 6 feet tall and weighing about 250 pounds, knocked on the door to get into the cockpit and then tried to push his way through an exit door, Sandou said.

At that moment, Sandou said, a business-class passenger pushed the man and Sandou and others rushed forward to subdue him. Sandou said he twisted the man's arms behind his back and held them there as other passengers strapped him tightly in a seat with a seat belt.

"He never talked too much," Sandou said. "He kind of said like, 'Let my arms go. Let my arms go.' . . . I said, 'I'm sorry, you need to stay until we land.' "

Sandou said some passengers asked the man what was in his bags, one of which had been left by his seat, and the man replied, "You will see." The man also talked of boarding the wrong plane and wanting to get off, Sandou said.

Detective John White, a spokesman for the Denver police, said no formal charges had been brought against the man. After questioning by the FBI, it was decided that the man should be sent for mental evaluation, said Kathy Wright, an FBI spokeswoman. The man, a New York resident who was not named, was not in custody, she said late Saturday.

Barry Eynon of Coopersburg, Pa., said in a phone interview that he was in the third row when another passenger "saw this person trying to open the airplane door and trying to get into the cockpit." The other passenger "jumped up and grabbed him from behind and yelled for help," Eynon said.

"I jumped up and grabbed him from the front," Eynon said.

Three or four other passengers also helped subdue the man, putting him in a seat and ensuring that he remained there, Eynon said.

The man seemed "really out of it," Eynon said.

Authorities in Denver said the attempt to open the door was unusual. "We don't hear that often," said Denver airport spokesman Jeff Green. Opening the door in the air is "pretty much impossible."

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