“Hindsight is 20-20,” said Rob Pedregon, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Airport Police. “Everyone’s looking for someone else to kind of shine this on.”
Pedregon said police were reviewing what happened after Uskanli’s arrest early Friday in a Los Angeles International Airport terminal after he bought a ticket to Hawaii and cleared security.
Uskanli, 25, wandered through a fire exit in the terminal — to a restricted zone outdoors — and approached a worker about 3 a.m., Pedregon said.
“He says: ‘Hey, everything’s closed. Where can I get something to eat?’ ” the spokesman said. “The contractor says: ‘Hey, you’re not supposed to be here.’ ”
It hardly seemed ominous to police officers at the time. Such misadventures — as well as the smell of alcohol on Uskanli’s breath — were pretty common in an airport terminal after dark, Pedregon said.
So officers wrote Uskanli up for misdemeanor trespassing, confiscated his boarding pass and released him outside the airport with his backpack.
“It would have been as if someone stole a candy bar out of the 7-Eleven,” Pedregon said.
Police didn’t tell American Airlines about the arrest, and nothing prevented Uskanli from going back through security and boarding his flight later that morning.
For reasons unknown, Uskanli asked a ticket counter agent for a wheelchair and was pushed through the terminal to the gate, according to American Airlines.
An FBI agent who later interviewed witnesses wrote that Uskanli was the first to board the plane, checked no baggage and carried nothing with him but a phone, a laptop, a charger and the items in his pockets.
According to the FBI affidavit, Uskanli was wheeled down the ramp by flight crew. American Airlines, however, said he walked onto the plane like any other passenger.
Once on board, Uskanli sat down in the first-class section, though his assigned seat was near the back of the plane, according to the affidavit.
The plane took off about 6 a.m. “He then started to exhibit strange behavior,” the FBI agent wrote.
Uskanli talked to himself, according to the affidavit. He said he was a famous actor and kept shuffling his laptop between the magazine pocket and the space under the seat, concerning nearby passengers.
He then got up to use the bathroom, failing to lock the door behind him. When someone walked in on him, he “became flustered and agitated, and began yelling and pounding on the walls,” according to the affidavit.
The crew escorted Uskanli to his assigned seat without any harm done, but a flight attendant later checked the bathroom and found bits of broken cigarettes near the toilet.
Such reports prompted the pilot to lock down the flight deck — an early precaution.
More would soon be taken.
“After some time passed,” the affidavit reads, “Uskanli again got up from his seat, wrapped a blanket around his head, picked up his laptop and started walking to the front of the plane.”
He was not rushing the cockpit, passenger Grant Arakelian told the Associated Press. “He was very quiet, moving very sluggish.”
But by then, the flight crew was more than a little alarmed.
An attendant pushed a drink cart down the aisle, cutting Uskanli off before he reached the first-class section.
He shoved against the cart, the FBI agent wrote, but the attendant held it firm and told him: “You are not coming in here.”
Another crew member turned to the passengers: “Can somebody please help? Can somebody please help?”
Four or five stood up from their seat, according to the FBI — one of them an off-duty police officer.
Uskanli saw them and put his laptop on top of the drink cart, the affidavit states.
The flight crew — who knew about recent reports that explosives might be slipped past airport security inside the computers — now took no chances.
After Uskanli was restrained, a flight attendant took the laptop to the back of the plane and covered it with crew bags in case it exploded.
The pilot, now following procedures for a bomb threat, dove to 5,000 feet and called airline security.
“Shortly thereafter, two military fighter jets from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam were sent to escort the flight to safe landing,” the FBI agent wrote.
A passenger told Hawaii News Now that Uskanli had been duct-taped to his seat for the duration of the flight, but the affidavit doesn’t mention any restraints, and American Airlines said only the laptop was taped down.
Instead, the FBI agent wrote, the off-duty police officer simply sat with Uskanli for the duration of the flight.
The plane landed more or less as scheduled in Honolulu but parked in a remote corner of the airfield, where police, agents, dogs and bomb technicians searched the laptop — and every passenger and bag.
Nothing threatening was found.
Uskanli was taken into custody and given a drug test, early results of which found tranquilizers in his system, as well as signs of stimulants and marijuana.
His interrogation didn’t clear much up.
He told FBI agents he was “alerting people,” according to the affidavit.
An agent asked if he’d had “terroristic thoughts.”
“We all have those ideas,” Uskanli replied, the agent wrote. When asked the same question again, the affidavit says, “he made a gun shape with his fingers and pretended to shoot me.”
Had be planned to hurt anyone? “It depends on the day,” he allegedly replied.
Before the interrogation was over, the agent wrote, Uskanli pointed at her and said: “I’ll kill her, get out the following day, and shoot myself.”
He’s now in federal lockup, charged with interfering with a flight crew — a crime that could put him in prison for up to 20 years.
But little is known about the man, let alone what he was doing on the flight.
He was in the United States on a temporary visa, now revoked, according to court documents. He had studied film in California and London, according to a Turkish news agency.
Uskanli appeared in court barefoot for his initial appearance Monday, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser. A brief meeting with his public defender resulted in an order that he be evaluated for mental competency before trial.
Uskanli’s lawyer, Peter Wolff, said Uskanli’s family in Turkey was trying to arrange for private counsel. In the meantime, he said, he didn’t know much more about the incident than what the FBI has written.
“It doesn’t sound like much happened on the plane,” Wolff said. “People were scared, I guess.”