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Airline passenger arrested after opening emergency exit and jumping on wing of plane at Miami airport, police say

An American Airlines plane lands at Miami International Airport in June. (AFP/Getty Images)

An American Airlines passenger was arrested Wednesday night after he opened an aircraft’s emergency exit door and jumped on the wing of the plane as it arrived at Miami International Airport, police said.

Flight 920 from Cali, Colombia, was taxiing to the gate shortly after 7 p.m. when a male passenger decided to make an emergency exit, Miami-Dade police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta told The Washington Post.

The man, who has yet to be publicly identified by police, was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, Zabaleta said.

The passenger could possibly face federal charges. His motivation for opening the emergency exit and jumping on the wing remains unclear, police said. The Miami-Dade Police Department is leading the investigation.

After the passenger’s arrest, he required medical attention upon arrival at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, Zabaleta told The Post. The passenger was at an emergency room at Jackson Memorial Hospital as of early Thursday, according to police. Authorities did not disclose specifics of the man’s condition.

A video obtained by the WPLG television station and shared to social media shows a man standing on the wing of the plane as a flight attendant attempts to get him to come back inside.

American Airlines spokeswoman Laura Masvidal said in a statement that the passenger “jumped onto the ramp” as customers were exiting the plane and was “immediately detained by law enforcement officials.”

“All other customers deplaned normally,” Masvidal said. “We thank our team members for their professionalism and apologize to our customers for the inconvenience.”

The arrest in Miami is the latest incident in a year of increased airline disruptions amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the incidents have stemmed from mask disputes involving travelers unwilling to follow coronavirus safety regulations at a time when the Transportation Security Administration has required all air travelers to wear face coverings on flights and in airports.

The Federal Aviation Administration recently said that more than 70 percent of the 4,498 reports of unruly passengers this year involved people who would not comply with the federal mandate to wear a face covering. Although the FAA said the rate of such incidents is declining, fines for bad behavior have eclipsed $1 million this year.

Anyone who opens an emergency exit door on an airplane during a non-emergency could face steep fines and potential time in prison. The charge of interference with flight crew members and attendants carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

A man from Mexico faces a 20-year maximum sentence in federal prison after he allegedly tried to breach the cockpit and then opened an emergency exit door and leaped out of a plane at Los Angeles International Airport in June, according to court documents.

While rare, incidents in which people illegally opened a plane’s emergency exit door have been reported in recent years. In 2012, a Delta Air Lines passenger attempted to open the emergency exit door during a flight from Boston to Salt Lake City after he had been drinking alcohol, according to CNN. A Ryanair passenger in Spain was so fed up with a flight delay in 2018 that he opened the emergency exit and waited on the wing, the BBC reported. That same year, a passenger on a Chinese domestic flight was fined $11,000 for opening the emergency exit because he said the packed plane was “stuffy,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Zabaleta said more information on the arrest at Miami International Airport would be available once the passenger is out of the hospital and transferred to jail.

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