Man attempts cockpit intrusion of SFO-bound plane

Flight attendants and passengers tackled a man who tried to rush a cockpit on an SFO bound plane. (Courtesy of Andrew Wai)
May 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
There are new details emerging about the unruly passenger restrained who began pounding on the cockpit door during a San Francisco-bound flight Sunday night. The FBI says 28-year-old Rageh Al-Murisi is from Vallejo and was carrying a passport from Yemen.

Andrew Wai was on board American Airlines Flight 1561. He got a better look at 28-year-old Al-Murisi than most and says the man had been acting a little strange, even before accounts of him storming the cockpit door.

"Seemed to me this passenger in the back row was just a little bit fidgety, didn't look like he was sure what he was doing, that kind of thing," Wai said.

A police spokesperson says shortly before landing at San Francisco International Airport, Al-Murisi rushed the cockpit.

"The flight attendant asked the passenger to return to his seat, when he refused, the flight attendant put his hands on him and physically pulled him away from the door," Sgt. Michael Rodriguez said.

Police say it took two flight attendants and two passengers to subdue Al-Murisi and place him in plastic handcuffs.

"There were abrasions caused during the scuffle with the passenger; he was taken to San Mateo County Hospital for treatment of abrasions to his chin and elbow," Rodriguez said.

Wai says Al-Murisi's outburst panicked many passengers.

"Passengers all around me were crying, the flight attendants were trying to calm certain passengers, we were looking at our lives flashing before our eyes," Wai said.

Al-Murisi's family in Vallejo is very surprised about the incident. His cousin told ABC7 Al-Murisi is not a violent person and he is not an extremist and he is not even that religious. Al-Murisi was living in New York, but was moving back to Vallejo.

"Whatever he was trying to do, it wasn't a terrorist attack, he wasn't trying to harm anybody," Rageh Al-Murisi, who shares the same name as his cousin, said. "Under the stress he may not have understood what they were telling him. I'm thinking they may have mistreated him in a certain way and he went to complain to someone, I don't know what he was thinking."

Al-Murisi had lived in Vallejo for about a year; his cousin says he even tried to learn English at the Vallejo Adult School. He later left for New York, looking for work.

"He was here at first trying to find work. He couldn't find work then his brother told him to come to New York and work with him," Al-Murisi's cousin said.

But when his brother returned to Yemen, Al-Murisi decided to give Vallejo another chance. He was flying back Sunday night after a layover in Chicago.

"We're trying our best to figure out what's going on; that's all we can do, but we're going to be here for him 100 percent, he's going to need us," Al-Murisi's cousin said.

ABC7 aviation consultant Ron Wilson says there was virtually no chance that Al-Murisi could have broken through. Unlike older style doors, since Sept. 11, cockpits have become bullet and people-proofed from the cabin.

"It's a solid panel door, no glass, heavy hinges, double locks," Wilson said.

The 160 passengers onboard Flight 1561 were grateful for it.

"When I saw him later in the terminal he was stone-faced, not a lot of emotion on his face," Wai said.

Al-Murisi will appear in a San Francisco federal courtroom Tuesday morning. According to his cousin, Al-Murisi has a wife and a young daughter all still in Yemen.

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