The Transporation Security Administration (TSA) found and then returned a box cutter to a passenger who threatened to stab someone on a Frontier Airlines flight to Florida and then charged at a flight attendant while holding the blade.
The terrifying incident took place on November 12 when William Allen Liebisch passed through a TSA checkpoint at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and boarded Frontier flight F9-1761 to Tampa.
Liebisch was indicted on Thursday with interfering with the duties of a flight crew, a charge which could land him with a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine if found guilty.
Prosecutors allege that Liebisch smuggled a box cutter aboard the flight and told one of his seatmates that he wanted to stab someone. Flight attendants roped in two male passengers to sit with Liebisch and keep him calm at the back of the plane while the pilots made an emergency diversion to Atlanta where law enforcement were waiting.
But fearing that boarding the plane immediately would only antagonize Liebisch, police officers waited outside the aircraft on the jetbridge while all the other passengers slowly filed off onto the airport terminal.
As the last passengers deplaned, prosecutors allege Liebisch charged towards a flight attendant at the front of the plane while holding the box cutter. Liebisch was only stopped when a passenger tackled him from behind as law enforcement rushed onboard the aircraft.
A police report claims Liebisch only stopped resisting then officers threatened him with a Taser.
It was initially believed that Liebisch had completely evaded TSA security screening but an internal review now reveals that officers found one of two box cutters during x-ray screening but returned it to him.
The US Attorney’s Office said on Thursday that TSA officers had “mistakenly believed that they had rendered it inoperable by removing its blade” before returning it to Liebisch. They didn’t realize, however, that the box cutter had a spare blade built into the handle.
A spokesperson for the TSA confirmed that the box cutter should not have been returned to Liebisch and that it should have either been abandoned or checked into his hold luggage.
A search of his hand luggage after his arrest also uncovered a second box cutter.
Liebisch, 42, of Cincinnati has also been charged with carrying a weapon aboard an airplane and has been remanded in custody pending his trial.
“Hopefully this indictment proves that the federal government takes all threats on aircrafts seriously and violators who disrupt travel will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” commented FBI Special Agent in Charge Atlanta Keri Farley.
Box cutters and most other blades and knives have been prohibited in the airplane cabin since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Frontier Airlines says the cockpit remained secure at all times during the incident.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the TSA told us: “On November 11, during passenger screening, one box cutter was discovered on the passenger. The visible blades were removed (and disposed of) from the box cutter and the box cutter without the visible blades was handed back to the passenger.”
“This is contrary to standard operating procedure which requires these items to be placed in checked bags or voluntarily abandoned. The backpack containing the other box cutter, and the remainder of the traveler’s property, was screened for explosives, but the additional box cutter was not discovered.”
The statement continued: “We take our responsibility to secure the skies for the traveling public very seriously. TSA can confirm that blades are prohibited in the cabin, but allowed in checked baggage.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.