After a few days visiting his fiancee’s sister in Spokane, Everett James was prepared for a long day of travel back to Chicago with their two young boys on Saturday. What ensued was an emergency plane landing and nearly 48 hours of travel.
First there was an unremarkable flight from Spokane to a connection in Seattle. Early in that second flight from Seattle to Chicago, a man seated directly behind James, Michael Ney Berry, 30, began loudly threatening other passengers before James and other passengers intervened and restrained him.
“The man became extremely belligerent and physically aggressive during ascent,” Ray Lane, an Alaska Airlines spokesman, said in a statement. “The passenger was quickly subdued by the flight crew with the assistance of two able-bodied passengers and a law enforcement officer who happened to be flying on the aircraft.”
The plane turned around and landed back at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, according to a statement from Alaska Airlines.
Ney Berry was arrested on harassment charges and is being held in King County Jail on $100,000 bond.
Before the incident, James’ trip seemed calm enough. James said that while he was nervous to fly during the pandemic, the trip to Spokane went smoothly.
“It was a nice flight there to Seattle and Spokane. And the weather was unbelievable,” James said of the visit to Spokane.
After their time in Spokane, James, his 10-year-old son, his fiancee and her 9-year-old son boarded Alaska Airlines Flight 422 from Sea-Tac at about 11 p.m. Saturday.
James said that while the family wore masks and took precautions, the trip was still tense due to COVID-19.
“We had N95 masks on, us and the kids,” James said. “We had hand sanitizer. We took every precaution that we could take, but it’s still in the back of your mind.”
About 20 minutes after the plane took off, Ney Berry, who was seated in the row directly behind James, began loudly talking about how Jesus was a Black man.
“He was saying Jesus is a Black man and if we don’t accept that then everybody is going to die,” James recalled.
From there, “it just progressively got worse,” James said.
James said the behavior initially seemed odd, though he tried to let it go, until Ney Berry began outright threatening to kill his fellow passengers.
A video captured by one of those other passengers shows Ney Berry repeatedly saying, “Die in the name of Jesus,” and “I will kill everybody, accept it.”
In the video, the 6-foot-3 James can be seen in a gray hoodie and N95 mask.
As Ney Berry’s threats escalated and he stood up, James decided to intervene.
“I already had my seatbelt off. I was like, somebody got to do something,” James said. “You don’t want to hear nothing about death when you’re flying in the plane.”
James stood up and followed Ney Berry.
“I don’t know where he was going, but I was going to make sure he wasn’t going to get near an emergency exit and open the door,” James said. “As I was walking up, one of the off-duty cops flashed me his badge.”
James can be seen in a video posted by the Seattle Times, nodding to the off-duty law enforcement officer before following Ney Berry up the aisle and nudging him between himself and the cop.
A flight attendant brought James and the off-duty law enforcement officer some restraints.
“I basically just started taking orders from him,” James said after the officer got involved.
After about 10 minutes, Ney Berry was restrained in a row of seats by himself and basically “passed out” after that, James said.
“I guess he blew a lot of energy trying to resist,” James said.
James and the officer sat in the aisle for the rest of the flight to keep an eye on the restrained man.
The flight turned around soon after the incident, James said. They were back on the ground at Sea-Tac about 35 minutes after the incident concluded, he said.
James said the world is a changed place with the ongoing pandemic.
“These times is different,” James said. “You don’t know what is on anybody’s mind.”
James said he made a written statement to the Port of Seattle police and the family ended up staying overnight in Seattle before boarding an early morning flight back to Chicago.
James does have some training in restraint procedures after spending a few years working in a juvenile boot camp in the late 1990s, but he said ultimately he’s just a regular guy. James works as a locomotive engineer for Union Pacific Railroad.
“I’m just a regular guy,” James said. “I hope the next time that something like this happens, somebody else steps up.”
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