Democracy Dies in Darkness

Gridlock

A passenger tried to bite a flight attendant — then leapt off the plane, police say

By Avi Selk

May 27, 2017 at 11:26 AM

In this 2011 photo, an American Eagle regional jet airliner taxis at Boston’s Logan International Airport. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

An American Airlines passenger is in federal lockup in North Carolina — accused of attacking a flight attendant and leaping from the jet as it prepared to take off from Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Thursday.

Flight 5242 had just pulled away from the gate and the seat belt lights had flashed on when 22-year-old Tun Lon Sein got out of his seat and tried to force the main door open, according to a federal air marshal's affidavit.

A flight attendant and two passengers got up to stop Sein — much like what happened on another American flight this month, when crew and passengers restrained a man whose bizarre behavior in the air prompted a bomb threat alert and caused military jets to scramble.

Related: [A man got a middle seat on a 13-hour flight. Passengers recorded his ‘fit of rage,’ then arrest.]

In this case, Sein couldn't be restrained. He "tried to bite" the crew member trying to get him back in his seat, according to the affidavit, and went looking for another door to get off the plane.

He found one in the galley and managed to get it open, authorities say. Then, for unknown reasons, he jumped from the plane, a regional CRJ-200 jet.

Tun Lon Sein (Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office)

Sein's alleged actions are the latest in a string of strange and disturbing flight incidents.

Before the other American Airlines incident this month, there was the bloody deplaning of David Dao. Before that, in February, a United pilot gave a preflight rant about divorce, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — causing her passengers to flee the plane. Not to mention the many viral fits of rage or politics that have been recorded in the aisles and cramped seat space of commercial jets.

And routine flight experience may soon become even less pleasant, if recent security threats prompt U.S. authorities to ban laptops on all flights from Europe.

After most news-making flight disruptions, the airlines have issued brief statements and said little about what took place on the plane. So too with Thursday's "security incident with a passenger" — as an American Airline statement described Sein's sprint across the tarmac.

The air marshal's affidavit said Sein ran toward the taxiway, where jets were coming and going from one of the busiest airports in the United States.

Two airport workers intercepted him before he could reach it, and shortly before midnight he was booked into federal lockup.

The other passengers got to New Bern, N.C., about an hour and a half late, according to the airline.

Sein's public defender didn't immediately respond to questions about the charge: interfering with a flight crew, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

According to the affidavit, he was midway through a journey that began overseas and spoke "little or no English" during the incident.

More reading:

A man wouldn't leave an overbooked United flight. So he was dragged off, battered and limp.

A United pilot ranted about Trump, Clinton and divorce. Her passengers fled.

A belligerent man in a Trump hat was kicked off a flight as a crowd chanted: 'Lock him up!'

An airline passenger went off on a Trump supporter. Her rant got her kicked off the flight.


Avi Selk is an American-Canadian nomad. He reported for the Dallas Morning News from 2009 until December 2016, when he joined the general assignment desk.

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