Unruly passenger on SFO-bound flight charged

January 13, 2010 5:07:34 PM PST
A man whose intoxicated behavior caused a San Francisco-bound flight to be diverted to Colorado Springs, Colo. last week appeared in a federal court in Denver this morning to face formal charges.

Muhammad Abu Tahir, 47, of Glen Allen, Virginia was charged with interfering with a flight crew, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado.

Tahir was a passenger on AirTran Airways Flight 39 on Friday, when it departed from Atlanta for San Francisco International Airport.

According to court documents, Tahir consumed five miniature bottles of wine during the flight, subsequently locking himself in the bathroom, where he removed his shirt and began shaving. The U.S. Attorney's Office alleges that he refused to obey crew members' requests to return to his seat, and grabbed a flight attendant by the arms at one point.

Concerned by Tahir's unruly behavior, the plane's captain decided to divert the flight to Colorado Springs.

Crew members used beverage carts to both secure the cockpit and barricade Tahir, still locked in the aircraft lavatory, from the rest of the passengers during the landing, according to the affidavit filed in the case. Two military fighter jets escorted the plane to the ground shortly before 11 a.m. Pacific time.

If convicted, Tahir could face up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000. He is a Pakistani national and a lawful permanent resident of the United States, according to U.S. Attorney spokesman Jeff Dorschner.

During Tahir's hearing this morning, a magistrate appointed a public defender to represent him. Tahir also requires the use of an Urdu translator, according to Dorschner.

He will return to court Friday at 10:30 a.m. for a preliminary hearing.