A passenger who helped restrain a threatening man on a weekend flight from Los Angeles to Boston said Tuesday that the entire chaotic episode was over within seconds thanks to teamwork.
Simik Ghookasian said in a telephone interview that he was seated several rows behind the man, who had quietly tried to open an airliner’s emergency door before trying to stab a flight attendant with a broken metal spoon, according to prosecutors.
“I heard the guy getting louder and louder and I thought it was just an argument, but he started yelling and screaming and threatening people, threatening to kill them,” said Ghookasian, a Los Angeles government contractor flying to Boston on United Flight 2609 on Sunday for work.
Until the yelling, he hadn’t noticed anything unusual about the man, who federal authorities have identified as Francisco Severo Torres.
Ghookasian said he saw the spoon and he was among five or six passengers who piled onto Torres and removed it from his grasp. It turned out to be the handle of a metal spoon, from which the bowl portion had been broken off, authorities said.
“That guy was really strong and was really resisting,” Ghookasian said. “We had a hard time holding him down. It was total teamwork.”
Ghookasian asked a flight attendant for some zip ties or duct tape and the flight attendant produced some zip ties.
Ghookasian, who said he has first aid and counter-terrorism training, said he didn’t have time to be scared, he just reacted and used his instincts.
“Everything just exploded in a few seconds,” he said.
Torres, 33, of Leominster, Massachusetts, was arrested when the plane arrived in Boston and charged with interference and attempted interference with flight crew members and attendants using a dangerous weapon, federal prosecutors said. he was detained pending a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
The plane was about 45 minutes from Boston when the crew received an alarm that a side door on the aircraft was disarmed, according to court documents. One flight attendant noticed the door’s locking handle had been moved. Another flight attendant had noticed that Torres was seen near the door and believed he had moved the handle.
Airplane doors cannot be opened once in flight due to cabin pressure.
The crew told the captain that he was a threat and the plane should be landed as soon as possible, authorities said.
Then Torres approached two flight attendants, according to the court documents. One of the flight attendants felt the metal object in Torres’ hand hit him on his shirt collar and tie three times.
Torres told investigators that he went into the airplane’s bathroom and broke a spoon in half to make a weapon, prosecutors said in the documents. They say he told authorities he wanted to open the door so that he could jump out of the plane.
Investigators said Torres admitted knowing that if he opened the door many people would die.
Torres said the flight attendants confronted him and he stabbed one of them in an attempt to defend himself, according to investigators. They said he believed the flight attendant was trying to kill him.
Authorities did not say where Torres got the spoon, but TSA rules allow airline passengers to bring metal utensils except knives onto planes.
United Airlines said no one was injured.
“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,” the company statement said. “The flight landed safely and was met by law enforcement.”
If convicted of the charges against him, Torres could face life in prison.
An email seeking comment from him was sent to his federal public defender, and a voicemail was left.
Torres has sued two mental health facilities where he was patient, according to federal court records. He sued the state-run Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital in March 2021, alleging medical malpractice for misdiagnosis. That suit was dismissed several months later.
He also sued Fuller Hospital in Attleboro, Massachusetts last May, alleging his constitutional rights were violated because he was a vegan and was denied almond milk. The suit was dismissed in June.
In both cases he acted as his own attorney.
—Mark Pratt, The Associated Press