A passenger onboard a Southwest Airlines flight from New Orleans to Atlanta caused mass panic on Sunday night after he opened an emergency exit and jumped onto the tarmac as the aircraft was preparing for departure.
A video shared on social media showed other passengers rushing to get off the Boeing 737 airplane, worried for their safety, and some claiming that the man had planted something on the plane before activating the emergency overwing exit.
After safely getting off the plane, a passenger filmed the suspect being dragged from the cab of a truck that had been parked by the airplane and detained by airport workers while they waited for law enforcement to arrive.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office confirmed to local media that the suspect had been arrested and taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation.
Southwest flight WN-3172 was still parked at the gate and was attached to the jetbridge when the man unexpectedly opened one of the overwing emergency exits – which aren’t guarded by flight attendants.
The ensuing panic prompted the flight attendants to order a so-called ‘rapid disembarkation’ in which passengers are deplaned as quickly as possible onto the jetbridge without calling for a full-scale evacuation.
In the end, the flight departed nearly three hours late.
There has been a spate of similar incidents in the last couple of years, including in July when a passenger onboard a Sunwing Airlines flight that had just arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport used the overwing exit to escape onto the tarmac.
In that incident, the suspect was wanted for an active felony drug warrant and had become aware that law enforcement was waiting to meet the aircraft when it arrived at the gate.
The man was reportedly found by airport employees around 45 minutes later hiding in a catering truck and handed over to the police. He was also arrested for violating a no-contact order.
In 2021, a passenger on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte to Baltimore opened an emergency exit on the Boeing 737 aircraft after tiring of a long tarmac delay stemming from bad weather and a staffing shortfall.
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.