Passengers describe disturbance on diverted United flight
A United Airlines flight leaving from Chicago bound for Hong Kong Thursday experienced a disruptive passenger that caused the flight to change course and land in Anchorage.
Tri Nquyen from Evansville, Indiana, sat next to the 22-year-old man.
“I knew his aunt in Evansville,” Nquyen said. “She asked if I would look out for him. He’s been in a lot of trouble and the family was sending him to Vietnam.”
Two days prior, the 22-year-old male was released from jail.
“His mom lives in Oakland, California, and he just kept getting into trouble,” Nquyen said. “So he was moved to Evansville to live with his aunt where it was believed a change of scenery would help him. It didn’t work, he’s been in trouble for the past five years.”
Nguyen said he’d help and that he knew Vietnamese.
“He doesn’t know much English so I offered to help,” Nquyen said. “He just was out of control and I tried to calm him down as much as I could.”
The young man shook the seats around him, poured drinks on the floor, spit food out of his mouth, fidgeted with the emergency exits, went in and out of the lavatories before eventually locking himself in, witnesses say.
“We heard a loud bump in the bathroom,” passenger BJ Canup said. “I heard the flight attendant say it’s a physical thump.”
Passenger Evans Mendonca, along with Nguyen, then calmly talked the young man out.
“It was quite a sight,” Canup said. “He had crap everywhere. I was able to see inside as they were talking him out. He was stuffing his shirt in the toilet then wiping it on the walls. I don’t know if he was trying to wipe crap on or wipe it off. He was shirtless and his shirt was beyond wearable again.”
Canup credits the calm demeanor of Mendonca, Nquyen and the United Airlines flight 859 pilot in aiding the young man to come out and go back to his seat.
“Those are the real heroes right there,” Canup said. “They all stayed calm and that was huge. No one raised their voice and no passengers were in distress. The crew was amazing and also moved the older people and kids from around the man and replaced them with some really big guys.”
The three men stood behind the man while he sat in his seat next to Nquyen.
“The guy sitting next to him stayed calm and kept talking to him," Zach Baker said. "I was just asked to help out and was ready to do what I could.”
Baker, who stands close to 7-foot-tall and wears a beard as well as a lumberjack, says what happened on 9/11 played a big part in his role.
“I fly a lot so that really plays in my mind from time to time,” Baker said. “So many times I wondered what I’d do so I planned to always be ready when needed.”
Baker is a teacher in Hangzhou, China, and just happened to be flying back from a visit back in the states.
“Once we stood behind him, he calmed down,” Baker said. “Everything was calm after that.”
The pilot decided that continuing to fly the 11 remaining hours to Hong Kong was just too risky for the rest of the passengers.
“We got a call around 16:49 p.m. or 4:49 p.m. Thursday that flight 895 needed to be diverted,” Anchorage Airport Police & Fire Lt. Joe Gamache said. “The flight heading from Chicago to Hong Kong, flight 895, had a passenger messing up the lavatories with feces and was not wearing a shirt. The plane landed in Anchorage at 18:30 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. and was met by Airport Police, the FBI, Homeland Security and Customs Border Patrol.”
Once on board, flight attendants directed security to the 22-year-old man.
“Security approached him and asked him to stand,” Lt. Gamache said. “He was placed in handcuffs and escorted off the plane. He was taken to the North Customs Terminal and interviewed there.”
It was deemed by the translator that what the young man was saying, was not very intelligible.
“The translator got the impression that this young man was gravely disabled,” Lt. Gamache said. “He was then taken to Providence Hospital for a mental evaluation, but they were full. So, he was then transported to Alaska Regional.”
The man is not being charged with any federal or state charges, no crimes or resistance and he did not interfere with security or the flight attendants.
“You could just tell he wasn’t all there upstairs,” Canup said. “Something wasn’t right.”
“I thought once we got to Chicago (from Evansville) he’d calm down,” Nguyen said. “That wasn’t the case at all.”
“This kind of thing happens more than people think,” Lt. Gamache said. “We get a lot of diverts to Anchorage-- whether it’s a woman having a baby or someone drinking too much and wants to start fighting.”
The passengers from United Flight 895 say the crew was terrific, they enjoyed their overnight stay at the Marriott or Sheraton, had a dinner waiting for them and a shuttle lined up to and from the airport.
“It was handled perfectly,” Tricia Mason said. “Most of the flight didn’t know what was happening. Everything was calm except for a few people running back & forth. United treated us fantastic.”
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