A Massachusetts man has been charged after authorities say he tried to open an emergency exit door, then attempted to stab a flight attendant repeatedly during a cross-country flight on Sunday.
Francisco Severo Torres, 33, of Leominster, faces one count of “interference and attempted interference with flight crew members and attendants using a dangerous weapon,” according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The flight crew got an alert just 45 minutes before the United flight from Los Angeles was set to touch down at Boston’s Logan International Airport that the door between first class and coach was disarmed, according to the release.
An attendant reported finding the door’s locking handle moved a quarter-turn “out of the fully locked position,” and the lever arming the emergency slide “disarmed.”
Another flight attendant said he had seen Torres near the door and believed he had tampered with it. The flight attendant notified the captain that Torres appeared to be a threat and that the plane should land as soon as possible, according to the release.
At one point, Torres left his seat and walked over to the two flight attendants, mouthing something unintelligible before he “thrust towards one of the flight attendants in a stabbing motion with a broken metal spoon, hitting the flight attendant on the neck area three times,” according to prosecutors.
Passengers on the flight tackled Torres, the release states, and flight attendants helped detain him until they could turn him over to law enforcement upon landing.
“Thanks to the quick action of our crew and customers, one customer was restrained after becoming a security concern on United flight 2609 from Los Angeles to Boston,” a United Airlines spokesperson told Nexstar in a statement. “The flight landed safely and was met by law enforcement.”
There were no serious injuries during the flight, the spokesperson added, and United is cooperating with the law enforcement investigation.
“We have zero tolerance for any type of violence on our flights, and this customer will be banned from flying on United pending an investigation,” the statement read.
During the pre-flight safety briefing, Torres allegedly asked another passenger where on the safety card he could find the door handle, fellow passengers later told investigators.
The alleged incident was just the latest in a string of recent in-flight altercations. Between Jan. 1, 2022 and December 15, 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration investigated 823 reports of unruly behavior – down from 1099 the prior year but vastly more than in past years. The annual average from 2015-2020 was 131 incidents, according to the FAA.
The charge Torres faces carries a maximum possible sentence of up to life in prison.
Torres was detained on Monday and is awaiting a March 9 court appearance.