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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

American Airlines passengers tackle, restrain man who tried to open emergency exit mid-flight

An American Airlines A319 takes off as a A321 taxis at DFW Airport on Jan. 15, 2023.  (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)
By Theresa Braine New York Daily News

Passengers onboard an American Airlines flight reported feeling rushing wind when a fellow traveler attempted to rip open the emergency exit in midair on Tuesday.

Six of them sprang into action, tackling the man and holding him down in the aisle until the plane safely returned to Sunport Airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Flight 1219 had been on its way to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport when the incident occurred roughly half an hour after takeoff.

“30 minutes after departing Albuquerque I was shaken out of my Panda Express and tequila-induced stupor by a man trying to aggressively open the airplane door four rows back,” Barstool Sports correspondent Zach Etkind, better known as The Wonton Don, wrote social media. “Me and five other dudes had to wrestle him into the aisle, duct tape his legs, and throw flexi-cuffs on him.”

“He was sitting at the emergency exit, and he cracked open the window that was protecting the handle,” fellow passenger Emma Ritz told Albuquerque ABC affiliate KOAT-TV. “He ripped down the handle where it exposed some of the emergency exit, and all the wind came rushing down.”

Ritz recorded the incident on her phone as multiple male passengers grabbed the man and pulled him to the floor. One of them, Blaze Ward, described the man gripping and yanking the safety lever even as they were pulling him off.

American Airlines confirmed the incident.

“American Airlines flight 1219 with service from Albuquerque (ABQ) to Chicago (ORD) returned to ABQ shortly after takeoff due to a disturbance in the cabin involving a disruptive customer,” the airline told the Daily News via email. “The flight landed safely, and the aircraft was met by local law enforcement upon arrival.”

The Federal Aviation Administration FAA concurred that the plane had landed safely back at Sunport at 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, and said it was investigating the incident along with the FBI is also on the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque told the Daily News on Wednesday that “no charges have been filed, and we cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.”

Passengers were left traumatized and flummoxed.

“The guy was screaming, ‘I want to get out,’ when he was restrained,” Ritz told KOAT. “I’m just curious what was going on with him, why he needed to get out of the plane.”