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FBI: Soccer team members help subdue man on flight
By Richard Green, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
OKLAHOMA CITY – An American Airlines flight from Boston to Los Angeles was diverted to Oklahoma City on Friday after a passenger stripped nude and later tried to open an emergency exit door before being subdued by members of a professional soccer team and others, the FBI said.
Members of the New England Revolution of Major League Soccer were among those who grabbed the passenger near an exit door, FBI spokesman Gary Johnson said. Tie wraps were placed on the man, whose name was not immediately released. He was taken into custody in Oklahoma City and placed under psychiatric evaluation, Johnson said.
American Flight 725, a Boeing 757, arrived in Oklahoma City at 1:35 p.m. CDT and was back in the air an hour later, said American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith. It landed without further incident at Los Angeles International Airport at 3:13 p.m. PDT.
Craig Tornberg, the soccer team’s general manager, said he confronted the man as soon as he saw him emerge naked from one of the plane’s restrooms.
“I said he should get back into the bathroom and put on his clothes,” Tornberg said after the plane landed in Los Angeles. “He said something strange to me. He said, ‘I don’t hear you. I don’t see you.’ ”
Tornberg said the man complied and got dressed but a few minutes later “made a beeline for the emergency door.”
Tornberg said he, assistant coach Gwynne Williams and Michael Burns, the team’s vice president for player personnel, grabbed the man and forced him into a seat while a flight attendant tied him up.
“It was strange, but when he put his hands on the exit door – that brought it to another level,” Burns said. “Clearly, he wasn’t thinking straight.”
The pilot diverted the flight to Will Rogers World Airport where the man was removed.
“He was taken into custody by the Oklahoma City Police Department and taken to a crisis center for a mental evaluation,” Johnson said.
Shortly before the incident, Tornberg said he saw the man, described as clean-cut and in his early 20s, crying and “talking a lot of gibberish.”
The soccer team was on its way to Southern California for a game on Sunday against Chivas USA at California State University, Fullerton. Its members were among 151 passengers and seven crew members on the flight.
As passengers left the plane in Los Angeles, several indicated they had taken the incident in stride.
Gillian Callaghan, who was traveling with her 12-year-old son, said she never panicked because the flight crew seemed to keep things well under control. She said she felt sorry for the man.
“He was just having some troubles, confused, not a scary guy,” she said.