Air-rage drunk threatens to kill
By CATHY ARONSON transport reporter
An angry passenger attacked and threatened to kill travellers and crew on an Air Zealand flight to Los Angeles but was released by the FBI because the attack was "not serious".
The 747-400 jumbo was six hours into the 11-hour flight from Auckland to Los Angeles on Monday when a man became angry, threatening and attacking others in economy class.
One passenger was told by a flight attendant that the man had threatened to kill passengers and crew.
As the flight landed, the pilot called for passengers who were involved in or saw the "incident" to remain on board until police arrived.
LA airport armed police boarded the plane and detained the man until FBI agents arrived.
But Sergeant Henry Acosta, of the airport police, said the FBI later released the man, in his 30s. No weapon was involved and no one was physically hurt, he said.
"He was threatening to fight them and beat them up. There were a lot of profanities and threats," said Mr Acosta. "I guess it is called air rage.
"The FBI did not believe it was serious enough to keep him in custody."
Air New Zealand spokeswoman Rosie Paul said a passenger threatened and "assaulted some individuals".
She would not say if those attacked were crew or passengers or if anyone was hurt, or even reveal the attacker's nationality.
"He was threatening and disruptive and assaulted individuals."
Ms Paul said staff were trained to deal with air rage and would stop serving alcohol and isolate the passenger until the plane landed.
Pilots had the authority to detain unruly passengers and could ban them from flying with the airline again.
New Zealand motoring columnist Peter Gill was on the flight and was told by an attendant that the man was drunk and had threatened to kill crew and passengers.
Mr Gill had been upgraded to first class and was unaware of any problems until the pilot's announcement after landing. "A stewardess told me a passenger became very, very drunk and very aggressive on his own booze - they hadn't fed him up with booze, she said - and had threatened to kill some staff and passengers.
"I was rather surprised that something like that could happen and I could be so unaware of it. It's a great advertisement for first-class air travel."
Air New Zealand said it had not had a problem with air rage for some time.
In November 2000, a drunk Australian man kicked a pilot, grabbed three flight attendants and threatened passengers on an Air NZ flight from Sydney to Los Angeles.
Erickson Alfonso Morales, then 30, had to be handcuffed and was arrested on arrival at Los Angeles.
He had said he wanted to kill Americans in Guatemala.
Morales later admitted the assault and, after three months in federal custody, was sentenced by the US District Court to three years of supervised release under the care of a psychiatrist in Australia.
A London aviation psychiatrist told the Civil Aviation Authority last year that air-rage attacks had increased after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Dr Graham Lucasa said passengers were likely to interpret a small problem with a drunk as a terrorist incident and turn it into a major confrontation.
Passengers were also more likely to drink to calm heightened nerves.