SEATTLE — A 23-year-old Florida man on a Thursday flight from Seattle to Beijing tried to open an exit door on the airborne Boeing 767, sparking a wild brawl with flight attendants and passengers who used wine bottles and zip ties to subdue the combative man, according to a federal complaint.
Joseph D. Hudek IV was charged Friday with one count of interference with flight crew members for allegedly assaulting two flight attendants on Delta Air Lines Flight 129. He is expected to remain in federal custody until a detention hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Hudek appeared for a hearing Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, wearing a beige jail uniform and sporting a scrape or bruise below his right eye.
He did not speak during the hearing. His attorney, Robert Flennaugh II, did not return a call.
Hudek, who was sitting in first class and traveling on a “dependent pass,” ordered one beer before takeoff and showed no signs of intoxication, FBI Special Agent Caryn Highley wrote in the complaint.
A spokesman for Delta said they can’t comment on passengers or employees, but that select family members of employees can use a dependent pass for travel. He said he could not comment on whether Hudek is related to a Delta employee.
About an hour into the flight, Hudek briefly went into the lavatory, according to the complaint. He then went back out and asked one of the flight attendants a question in the galley area, the complaint says.
Hudek returned to the lavatory for approximately two minutes. After he walked out he lunged toward the emergency exit door, grabbed the handle and tried to open it, the complaint alleges.
The flight attendant and a second flight attendant tried to subdue him, but Hudek allegedly shoved them away and moved the emergency release lever halfway up.
One flight attendant later reported that the door could have opened if it was fully disarmed at the altitude they were flying over the northwest end of Vancouver Island, B.C.
Attendants turned to passengers for help as one of them called the cockpit to alert the flight crew of the emergency. The pilot notified the Federal Aviation Administration of the threat, and the flight carrying 210 passengers and 11 crew was diverted back to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Meanwhile, Hudek allegedly punched one of the attendants twice in the face, hit a male passenger in the head with a red dessert-wine bottle and punched him several times.
A flight attendant grabbed two wine bottles and hit Hudek with both, breaking one over his head.
According to the criminal complaint, Hudek was undeterred by impact of the 1-liter bottle and asked, “Do you know who I am?”
It’s unclear what Hudek meant by that.
The male passenger then put him in a headlock, but Hudek freed himself as several other passengers from the first-class cabin jumped into the fight to restrain Hudek.
Hudek was eventually restrained with zip ties, but he “remained extremely combative, and multiple passengers were needed to restrain Hudek and keep him restrained until the plane landed safely back at Sea-Tac Airport,” at 7:10 p.m., the criminal complaint states.
One of the flight attendants gave a passenger instructions on how to arm the emergency exit door and return it to the locked position.
Passenger Dustin Jones, who was seated just behind the curtains that lead to the first-class section, said he could tell that there was a scuffle.
“One of the flight attendants ran back and said there was a Code 3,” Jones told KIRO-TV. “There was a serious fight up front.”
Jones said he saw the man handcuffed and zip-tied being rolled into the terminal in a wheelchair after the plane landed.
“He started yelling for help,” Jones said. “And so he turned the wheelchair over in the middle of the airport, screaming for people to help him, just being belligerent.”
One flight attendant and a male passenger were taken to Highline Wound Care Center in Burien, where they were treated for severe facial injuries.
The flight left Sea-Tac Airport for Beijing again just after midnight on its scheduled 11 1/2-hour flight, according to FlightAware.com.
The Port of Seattle, citing the FBI, said no information suggests there was any national-security threat. Authorities said the cockpit door was not breached.
During Thursday’s detention hearing, a magistrate judge will determine whether Hudek can be released from custody and under what conditions.
Hudek faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.