05 July 2009
US Airways Flight Diverted After Man Disrobes Mid-Flight
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A US Airways flight to Los Angeles was diverted to Albuquerque after a passenger removed all of his clothing mid-flight, forcing flight attendants to cover him with a blanket before he was arrested, authorities said Wednesday.
Keith Wright, 50, of the Bronx in New York, was taken into custody by airport authorities after he disrobed while sitting in his seat in the back of Flight 705 on Tuesday evening, authorities said. The plane was carrying about 148 passengers from Charlotte to Los Angeles, the airline said.
Wright was unresponsive when a flight attendant asked him to put his clothes back on, said Dan Jiron, a spokesman for the Albuquerque airport. "She asked him on more than one occasion to put on his clothes. She covered him with a blanket and he took that off," Jiron said.
Wright punched and kicked the flight attendant, who asked two off-duty law officers for help, according to a criminal complaint. A Los Angeles police officer and sheriff's deputy helped the flight attendant subdue and handcuff Wright before the flight landed, Jiron said.
Roger Finzel, an assistant federal public defender representing Wright, said he has not yet met with his client and had no information about the case other than what was in the complaint.
Wright told the FBI he is suffering from a bipolar disorder and had not taken his prescribed medication before leaving New York that morning, the criminal complaint said. Wright told the FBI he recalled nothing about the flight or his behavior, it said.
Wright had been seen dancing in a crowded boarding area before the flight, but when approached by Flight Service Supervisor Claudia Kearney, he told her he had drunk one beer. Kearney told the FBI she did not smell alcohol on him and determined he was well enough to travel, the complaint said.
US Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder could not confirm that Kearney worked for the airline.
Passenger Ginny Keegan of Detroit was sitting in the front of the plane, when there was commotion coming from the back. The people on the flight were notified of a violent passenger as the plane began to approach Albuquerque, but Keegan said no one was fearful.
"No one was really panicking. The flight attendants seemed to handle it very well," she said. Keegan said the man was "completely naked" as he was taken in handcuffs off the plane.
As the plane took off again, Keegan said the usual announcement to please fasten your seat belts came over the loudspeakers with a twist. The message included "a reminder to everybody to please keep your clothing on. It got a couple chuckles," Keegan said.
The flight attendants also were dealing with an unrelated onboard medical emergency at the same time, which exacerbated the situation, the FBI said. The aircraft was diverted because of the medical emergency, and Wright's actions were a secondary reason for the unplanned landing, the complaint said.
Wright is in federal custody on a federal charge of interfering with flight crew members and attendants. He is expected to appear in federal court in Albuquerque on Thursday.