Hawaii jet took off with unruly passenger despite red flags

FILE- In this file photo provided by Donna Basden, a man is escorted off an American Airlines flight after it landed in Honolulu, Friday, May 19, 2017. Court records say the man who caused a disturbance on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu had no luggage other than a laptop and needed a wheelchair to board the plane because he appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.(Donna Basden via AP, File)

HONOLULU (AP) — Anil Uskanli, who authorities say inspired so much fear among flight attendants on a Hawaii-bound jet that fighter jets were scrambled to escort the plane, raised a series of possible red flags at Los Angeles International Airport before the flight took off.

Uskanli, 25, of Turkey, is charged with interfering with a flight crew and was ordered Monday by a federal judge in Honolulu to undergo a competency evaluation to make sure he understands the legal proceedings surrounding the felony accusation carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

He bought his ticket about midnight at the airport and went through security screening but opened a door leading to an airfield ramp at about 2:45 a.m. Friday, airport police said.

He smelled of alcohol, but he wasn’t intoxicated enough to be held for public drunkenness, so police cited and released him.

Uksanli’s boarding pass was confiscated, and he was walked out to a public area of the airport, police said. He got another boarding pass for the flight and went through security screening again.

Even though he was traveling to Hawaii, he had no checked or carry-on luggage other than a laptop, a phone and items in his pocket, according an FBI criminal complaint.

Before takeoff, he sat in a first-class seat and had to be asked several times to move to his economy seat near the back of the plane, the complaint said.

During the six-hour flight, Uskanli had his head swathed in a blanket and tried to get to the front of the plane.

When he put his laptop on a drink cart that a flight attendant had used to block him, flight attendants feared the computer might contain explosives — prompting the captain to initiate bomb-threat procedures.

Two Hawaii National Guard fighter jets were scrambled to escort the plane to Honolulu on the last leg of its trip, and Uskanli was arrested when it landed.

His intentions were unknown, and the judge ordered Uskanli returned from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland to undergo the competency evaluation.

Federal Public Defender Peter Wolff said he requested the evaluation for Uskanli in part because of the actions described in the criminal complaint and because of comments Uskanli made that Wolff declined to describe. Competency evaluations assess whether defendants can understand and participate in court proceedings.

It’s not common practice for police to notify an airline if someone opens a door to a restricted area, like Uskanli did, Los Angeles airport police spokesman Rob Pedregon said.

“If he was a danger, we would not have ever let him go,” he said.

Because Uskanli had walked into the restricted area at the airport and he was deemed to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, crew members helped him to the plane using a wheelchair, the complaint said.

American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said Uskanli requested the wheelchair at the ticket counter, went through security and to the gate for the flight.

Flight attendants assisted Uskanli at the door of the plane, the complaint said.

Passengers told the FBI that Uskanli on the flight talked about being a famous actor and pounded on the walls of a restroom after someone opened the restroom door he had left unlocked.

The flight attendants feared his laptop because they are aware “that laptop computers potentially pose a new threat to airplane security because they may contain explosives that are undetected by airport screening measures,” the complaint said.

After the captain initiated the bomb threat procedures, flight attendants barricaded Uskanli’s laptop with crew bags. An off-duty law enforcement officer sat with him for the remainder of the flight, the complaint said.

No explosives were found after the plane landed. FBI agents then interviewed Uskanli.

“When I asked him if he ever had terroristic thoughts, he responded, ‘We all have those ideas,'” an agent wrote in an affidavit.

The agent asked Uskanli later about terroristic thoughts. In response, he made a gun shape with his fingers and pretended to shoot her, the agent wrote.

“He then did a gesture simulating a chopping motion toward my neck,” the agent said.

He then told another agent, “I’ll kill her, get out the following day and shoot myself,” according to the court documents.

The complaint said he consented to a urine test and field sobriety tests.

The urinalysis was presumptively positive for benzodiazepine, a tranquilizer, and the field tests indicated possible use of stimulants or cannabis, the complaint said.


Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles and David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.