A passenger onboard a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston stands accused of stabbing a flight attendant in the neck with a homemade shank fashioned out of a broken metal spoon after trying to open one of the plane’s emergency exits midflight.
The terrifying incident unfolded on Monday’s United Air flight UA2609 which departed Los Angeles International Airport at around 8:47 am, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which announced the charges against Francisco Severo Torres, 33, of Leominster, Massachusetts.
According to prosecutors, the flight crew first became aware that something was amiss when an alarm activated in the cockpit around 45 minutes before arrival, alerting the pilots that one of the emergency exits located on the starboard side of the aircraft between the first class and coach had been disarmed.
A flight attendant was sent to check the door, and they noticed that not only had the slide arming lever been moved to the disarmed position but that the door locking handle had also been moved around a quarter of the way to the unlocked position.
Although it is impossible to open an emergency exit at high altitudes due to the pressurisation of the aircraft (and in some cases, speed-activated door locks), tampering with the locking handle and slide arming lever can also damage and hinder an emergency evacuation.
Flight attendants told FBI investigators that they suspected Torress because he had been seen around the door earlier in the flight, and one of them decided to confront him.
Torres allegedly asked the flight attendant if there was security camera footage of him tampering with the door – a response that prompted the flight attendant to believe Torres represented a threat to the aircraft. The flight attendant subsequently phoned the pilots to notify them of their suspicion while crew members guarded the door.
“Shortly thereafter, it is alleged that Torres got out of his seat and approached the starboard side door where two flight attendants were standing in the aisle,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said on Tuesday.
Torres mouthed something at the flight attendants and then allegedly “thrust towards one of the flight attendants in a stabbing motion with a broken metal spoon, hitting the flight attendant on the neck area three times”.
Passengers rushed to the aid of the flight attendants and managed to restrain and subdue Torres before law enforcement met the aircraft on arrival in Boston.
Torres has been charged with interference and attempted interference with flight crew members, as well as using a dangerous weapon. He faces a maximum possible sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty.
Witnesses onboard the flight told investigators that Torres had been studying the passenger safety card and had asked his seatmates where the door handle was located. Shortly before allegedly stabbing the flight attendant, Torres had also been seen pacing around one of the galleys onboard the Boeing 757.
In a statement, a United spokesperson hailed the “quick action” of crew and customers who managed to restrain the assailant after they presented a “security concern”.
“The flight landed safely and was met by law enforcement. No serious injuries were reported,” the statement continued. “We have zero tolerance for any type of violence on our flights, and this customer will be banned from flying on United pending an investigation. We are cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation.”
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.