A Frontier Airlines flight passenger who allegedly boarded the plane with two box cutters and was seen acting erratically was taken into custody after an emergency landing on Friday evening, according to the airline and the Transportation Security Administration.
Several passengers on the flight, including military veterans and a former law enforcement officer, helped crew members subdue the man after he landed, according to eyewitnesses.
The flight was en route to Tampa from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport when it was diverted to Atlanta “after a passenger on the plane was observed in possession of a cutter,” said Frontier in a press release.
ABC News spoke with Larry Cumberbatch, who was a passenger on Frontier Airlines Flight 1761 and is a Navy veteran.
Cumberbatch said two other men, another veteran and a former law enforcement officer, worked with the plane’s crew to help detain the armed passenger and protect other passengers.
About 45 minutes into the flight, Cumberbatch said flight attendants approached the three of them and asked for help with a passenger in the back of the plane.
At least two passengers reported seeing some kind of blade from a man who several people noticed was acting erratically.
Cumberbatch volunteered to switch seats with the woman originally next to the armed passenger.
“They were worried about a young lady and they asked if anyone was willing to change seats or maybe come back and sit with him. For her to be safe. The situation was that the lady mentioned that the gentleman next to her had some kind of a knife or a weapon and he actually showed it to her,” Cumberbatch said.
He then walked to the back of the plane, finding the armed passenger taking the middle and aisle seat and boxing the man sitting in the window.
The erratic passenger seemed paranoid, as if someone was following him, but not showing the blade. He eventually moved into the bathroom while Cumberbatch stood in the aisle.
“His feet were up on the aisle seat. So he just leaned back, relaxing. And I came over and said, ‘I’m going to be sitting here now. You know, it’s my seat. And he said, “Well, no. That’s the young woman’s seat.” I said, ‘Not anymore,'” Cumberbatch said. “I just stood there. And I think it did…I don’t know if he thought I was an air marshal or someone else. He got up and went to the back, maybe to the bathroom. And I kept standing up to this point just because I wasn’t, I didn’t want anybody with a knife behind me.”
When the armed passenger exited the bathroom, he confronted Cumberbatch in the aisle, in what he described as a confrontation.
“He was basically standing by the bathroom door staring at me, fiddling with, you know, his clothes. Maybe he was backing up a bit, but not really because there wasn’t confined space. He was trying to size me up to figure out who I was, and I’m literally acting nonchalant,” Cumberbatch explained. “So, I said, let me just let him know physically that I’m there without having to look at him, because that’s going to upset, upset somebody. I just want to, you know, defuse so that we land .”
The armed passenger eventually got into the back of the plane to land. The passengers exited the plane, leaving the crew, the two veterans, the former law enforcement officer and the armed passenger. The former law enforcement officer attempted to walk the armed passenger down the aisle as the two veterans flanked him. Law enforcement was nearby, but not immediately visible.
“You could see the energy ramping up where the uncertainty, the uncertainty of what’s going to happen with this young man,” Cumberbatch said.
The armed passenger allegedly made some sort of erratic movement, prompting the former law enforcement officer to tackle him. The police then arrested him.
Cumberbatch cited his military training and his experiences growing up and riding the subway in ’90s New York, where he saw box cutters as the weapon of choice, as situational readiness.
“Going through boot camp and the Navy kind of changed my whole perspective on serving others and having a sacrificial mindset,” he said. “But I knew that I also knew how to defuse situations, just because of different scenarios in my life. But honestly, the fact that he had a gun, it didn’t really faze me. I don’t know. I can’t explain it, but I just knew I could handle it. And if I didn’t…well, I knew I could have. I had no doubts about it.
Cumberbatch said he wasn’t surprised the other two veterans also stood up.
“I think that followed understanding what happened in our past, a history with 911, etc. And I think that was at the forefront of my mind when I came back, because I was literally in the navy I joined, before 911 came,” he said. “And when I heard that, that’s the first thing I said, ‘That’s not will happen again.”
Cumberbatch noted that there were children on the plane, and particularly in the back of the plane where the armed passenger was seated.
Cumberbatch said the flight crew acted responsibly and competently throughout the situation.
“I mean, they were very brave. They were talking to him, trying to assess, does he really have a gun?” Cumberbatch told ABC. “(They were trying to see) what was going on mentally with him.”
“The aircraft landed safely in Atlanta and the passenger in question was taken into custody by Atlanta law enforcement,” De La Cruz said.
No details were available on the circumstances that led to the discovery of the cutter and the person detained was not identified.
No passengers or crew members were injured, the airline said.
All passengers disembarked and were accommodated at hotels for the night in Atlanta. A new flight is scheduled for Saturday morning to take passengers from Atlanta to their final destination of Tampa.
Frontier Airlines sent ABC the following statement:
“Frontier Airlines Flight 1761, which departed Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport earlier (Friday) en route to Tampa, diverted to Atlanta after a passenger on the plane was observed in possession of a box cutter No passengers or crew were reported injured The plane landed safely in Atlanta and the passenger in question was taken into custody by law enforcement of the order from Atlanta. All passengers have disembarked from the plane and are staying at the hotel for the night in Atlanta. A new flight is scheduled for (Saturday) morning to carry passengers from Atlanta to their destination Tampa final.”
CNN Feed contributed to this report.
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