February 15, 2022 By The Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Portland, Oregon, man who authorities said tried to open an emergency exit door during a commercial flight from Salt Lake City to Portland made his first appearance in court Monday.
The 31-year-old man has been charged with interfering with a flight crew and attendants for his actions on the Feb. 11 Delta Airlines flight, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
FBI agent Adam T. Hoover wrote in an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint that the man was seen removing the plastic covering on an emergency exit handle and pulled on the handle with his full body weight before a flight attendant intervened.
People on the plane said they heard “a loud air swooshing as the defendant yanked on the door repeatedly,” Assistant U.S. Attorney. Mira R. Chernick told the U.S. District Court judge during Monday’s hearing in Portland.
The pilot reported that an alert light went on in the plane’s cockpit.
“This was a very dangerous offense that endangered the lives and safety of the people on that plane and put many of them in a fearful situation,” Chernick said.
The man was directed to the back of the plane, where he was seated and physically restrained, the affidavit says. Once the plane landed in Portland, Port of Portland police arrested him.
According to the affidavit, the man told police he tried to push the emergency exit handle so passengers would videotape him and he’d have “the opportunity to share his thoughts on COVID-19 vaccines.”
The prosecutor said witnesses reported that the man also exhibited symptoms of mental health issues on the plane, including cry laughing and staring into space.
Assistant federal public defender Gerald Needham called the allegations “out of character” for his client.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta ordered the man to remain in custody so a mental health evaluation can be done.