Another flight to Isles diverted
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
A disturbance on a Hawaiian Airlines flight yesterday prompted the pilot to turn back to the West Coast, the second time this week a Hawai'i-bound HAL flight returned to the Mainland because of a security concern.
Flight 17 from Las Vegas made an unscheduled stop in Los Angeles, where authorities removed a 54-year-old Honolulu man. The plane resumed its trip to Honolulu, arriving three hours late.
The incident came at a time of heightened concern over airline security, after a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Day.
On Wednesday, a Maui-bound Hawaiian Airlines flight from Portland, Ore., was turned around and escorted by two F-15 military fighters because of an uncooperative passenger. The U.S. attorney's office yesterday filed a charge of interfering with a crew member against the passenger, Joseph Hedlund Johnson of Salem, Ore.
Yesterday, HAL Flight 17 from Las Vegas to Honolulu was diverted to Los Angeles at 4:30 a.m. West Coast time because of a "dispute" between the Honolulu man and a female passenger, said Sgt. Jim Holcomb, spokesman for Los Angeles World Airports Police.
The woman declined to prosecute, so Los Angeles airport police released the man without charges after checking that there were no outstanding warrants for him, Holcomb said. The man was not allowed back on the flight.
"The nature of the disturbance was between two passengers and had nothing to do with terrorism or any type of interference with the air crew," Holcomb said. "The information will be forwarded to TSA and the FBI and it will be up to them as to whether they want to pursue it any further."
HAL spokesman Keoni Wagner said the airline is satisfied with the way the crew handled the situation. Unruly passengers are an "occasional" problem and the captain makes the decision on whether it is serious enough to divert a flight, Wagner said.
Wagner said the two incidents and the Christmas Day incident have not prompted any changes in procedures. "Our existing procedures and training effectively cover the range of potential situations," he said.
Two passengers on HAL 17, Buddy and Karen Wiles of Wilmington, N.C., said at first they didn't know why they were turning back. A flight attendant later told them a man who had too much to drink had assaulted a woman, they said.
"You see all the fire trucks and ambulance (at the airport), that's scary," Karen Wiles said.
"We needed more explanation on what was going on because we couldn't prepare ourselves mentally or physically," Buddy Wiles said.
Kourtney Bogle of Waipahu said she was able to stay calm because the flight attendants were calm, but questioned if it was really necessary to divert the flight.
"I think it was weird that they landed for it," Bogle said. "I don't know what the guy did but I hope that it's not one of those things where they're going to try to be so safe that every time somebody does something that's not a big deal that we have to land."
Also yesterday, an AirTran Airways flight from Atlanta to San Francisco landed in Colorado Springs, Colo., after an intoxicated passenger locked himself in a bathroom. The man was removed and the plane resumed its trip to San Francisco.
On Wednesday's flight, Johnson was sitting in a bulkhead row and was unhappy he could not stow his carry-on bag under his seat, an FBI affidavit said.
Johnson, 56, of Salem, Ore., then filled out a comment card with phrases about death and crashing, and he gave it to an attendant who passed it along to the pilot, the affidavit said.
"The captain stated that he absolutely felt threatened by the contents of the card, especially when he considered Johnson's earlier suspicious behavior with his bag," the affidavit said.The Associated Press contributed to this report.