NORAD scrambles again over unruly passenger

Photo of unruly passenger who was taken off a San Francisco-bound flight after it was diverted to Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Sam Miorelli)

January 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Disruptive passengers caused two commercial airplanes to be diverted Friday, with military jets scrambling to escort a San Francisco-bound flight into a Colorado airport, authorities said.

Passengers said they were more annoyed than scared. The people ABC7 spoke with never thought it was a terrorist attack. It was pretty obvious it was a drunk, belligerent man. But a lot of the passengers seemed to realize it was going to take a team effort to keep this guy somewhat contained.

Witnesses say the flight attendants were dealing with a loud, drunk man who at one point locked himself in the bathroom and later was threatening the flight attendant.

"He starts pushing the stewardesses finger in the face and I said, 'Hey buddy, settle down,'" passenger Bryan Burnett said.

The FBI has identified the man as 46-year-old Muhammad Abu Tahir. One passenger took video of him as he was escorted off the plane and another took a picture with his cell phone.

The flight attendants asked some passengers to be ready to help them control this man, and even handed out some handcuffs.

"They gave me some tuff cuffs plastic just in case, that was as a last resort. But it was fine. Police handled it," Burnett said.

The plane was headed to San Francisco from Atlanta, but when the man would not calm down, the pilot decided to land in Colorado Springs and two F-16 fighter jets escorted the plane to safety.

"We landed really fast. We were flying along, hard right turn, and down we go," said Sam Miorelli from San Jose said.

"I was just relieved. I was glad we were going to get rid of him and glad everything working the way it's supposed to. We were safe," Marianne Williams said.

There were 43 high school students on board from South Carolina headed to San Francisco for a school sponsored trip. Their chaperones said the kids stayed pretty calm.

"They handled it just fine. Smart, bright kids. They weren't scared," passenger James Dunn said.

"We were safe and all these kids were taken care of and that's all that matters," Burnett said.

The passengers ABC7 spoke with did not know about the F-16 jets. They never saw them, and some thought maybe that was a bit of an overreaction. They think officials probably went overboard because of the attempted attack on Christmas Day.

But no one was upset, they were just happy to be safe.