A 25-year-old passenger seated near the back of an airplane wrapped a blanket around his head, picked up his laptop and started walking to the front of American Airlines Flight 31 from Los Angeles to Honolulu on Friday.
Flight attendants were frightened. Laptops, they had recently learned, posed a new threat because they could contain explosives undetected by airport screening.
After pushing a drink cart into the man’s path, a flight attendant told the man, “You are not coming in here.”
Then, to nearby passengers, she asked, “Can somebody please help? Can somebody please help?”
These were the tense moments as Anil Uskanli, a Turkish national, was talking to himself, banging on a restroom wall and allegedly trying to walk toward the front of the plane before he was escorted back to his seat by an off-duty law enforcement agent.
The details about the flight and allegations against Uskanli are contained in a federal felony complaint filed Saturday in Hawaii and obtained by NBC affiliate KHNL.
It’s the first glimpse of what happened aboard the flight.
The flight, with 181 passengers and six crew members aboard, landed safely and nobody was hurt. But it was likely scary, especially as terrorism fears were raised last week with the possible laptop threat.
The flight took off from LAX Friday morning, where the suspect boarded after entering a restricted area and being declared under the influence, but not above the legal limit to be arrested.
Flight attendants escorted him onto the flight in a wheelchair, documents said. He carried only a phone, his laptop and charger and did not have a carry-on bag or checked luggage, court documents said.
Once in the air, fellow passengers and flight attendants said he was exhibiting strange behavior: talking to himself, repeatedly moving his laptop from the seat back to under the seat, and yelling and pounding on the walls in the restroom.
Flight attendants reported his behavior to the captain, who implemented emergency measures, flying to 5,000 feet, alerting security on the ground, and calling in fighter jets to escort the flight to its destination, the documents said.
Flight attendants, trained in handling possible explosives on a plane, “barricaded” the laptop with flight crew bags at the back of the plane, according to court documents.
Once it landed, the plane was parked at a remote location of the airport while police, the FBI, the bomb squad and police dogs swept the plane and screened the laptop for explosives. The device turned out to be harmless, documents show.
When asked if he ever had “terroristic thoughts,” Uskanli told an FBI agent, “We all have those ideas,” court documents said.
When asked again, “he made a gun shape with his fingers and pretended to shoot me,” FBI Special Agent Danielle Desanctis said in her affidavit in support of the criminal the complaint. “He then did a gesture simulating a chopping motion toward my neck.”
Uskanli, who faces charges of interfering with flight crew members, spoke with a Turkish interpreter before a brief court hearing Monday, where a judge ordered that he undergo a mental competency evaluation, according to The Associated Press.
Federal Public Defender Peter Wolff said he requested the evaluation partly because of the actions described in the criminal complaint. The Bureau of Prisons will determine where he will go for the evaluation, the AP said.