Fighter jets were scrambled to escort an American Airlines flight to Honolulu after a disruptive passenger’s laptop caused fear among flight attendants that it may contain explosives. Here’s a timeline of events involving Anil Uskanli’s travel to Hawaii.
12:03 a.m., Friday, May 19: Anil Uskanli uses a credit card to purchase a ticket to Honolulu at Los Angeles International Airport. He later goes through a security checkpoint.
Around 2:45 a.m. PDT: He opens a door to an airfield ramp and walks up to a contractor asking where he can get food, according to airport police. The contractor calls airport police, and officers arrive. Officers notice that he smells of alcohol, but there are no visible signs he’s drunk. Police issue a citation for misdemeanor trespassing, confiscate his boarding pass and walk him out to a public area of the airport. He then goes back, gets another boarding pass for the flight and goes through security screening again.
8:43 a.m. PDT: American Airlines Flight No. 31 pushes off from the gate. Uskanli is the first passenger to board, carrying only a laptop, phone and some items in his pockets, according to a criminal complaint.
9:10 a.m. PDT: The Airbus A321 is airborne, carrying 181 passengers and six crew members. Passengers seated near Uskanli notice his strange behavior, including talking to himself and talking about being a famous actor. At one point, he goes to use the bathroom, but he doesn’t lock the door. He gets upset when a passenger walks in and starts yelling and pounding on walls, according to the complaint.
During six-hour flight: Uskanli moves out of his assigned seat, 35B, and walks toward the front of the plane while carrying his laptop and with a blanket wrapped around his head. A flight attendant pushes a drink cart down the aisle to block him, the complaint said. Several passengers, including an off-duty law enforcement agent, stand up to help. Uskanli puts his laptop on the drink cart. Flight attendants are frightened of the laptop because of warnings that laptops may contain explosives that are undetected by airport screening. The off-duty officer sits with him for the remainder of the flight.
About 9:50 a.m. HST, Friday May 19: An airline corporate security representative notifies FBI that the flight has enacted safety precautions because of a disruptive passenger.
About 10:30 a.m. HST: Hawaii National Guard receives a request to check out an aircraft heading to Honolulu, according to spokesman Lt. Col Charles Anthony. They scramble two F-22 Raptors from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to meet the plane and escort it to Honolulu International Airport.
11:35 a.m. HST: The plane lands. Local law enforcement officers, FBI agents and bomb technicians secure the plane and seize the laptop, according to the complaint. Dogs sweep the aircraft. All passengers and carry-on bags are re-screened. Checked bags are inspected by an explosive detection canine team. No explosives are found. Passengers are bused to the terminal. Uskanli is taken into custody, signs a waiver of his rights and consents to an interview with FBI agents. He consents to a urine test and a series of field sobriety tests. The urinalysis is presumptively positive for benzodiazepine, and the field tests show possible use of stimulants or cannabis.
May 20: U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren signs the FBI affidavit, finding that there is probable cause for a charge of interference with flight crew members and attendants.
May 22: The criminal complaint is filed in federal court in Honolulu. Uskanli remains held at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center.
1:45 p.m. HST, May 22: Uskanli appears in federal court in Honolulu for a brief initial appearance. He speaks briefly with a Turkish interpreter. Federal Public Defender Peter Wolff requests a competency evaluation. Kurren orders the evaluation.
AP Airlines Writer David Koenig in Dallas and AP Writer Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Christopher A. Veloicaza/US Navy
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After landing in Honolulu on a flight from Los Angeles, passengers described a midair disruption involving an unruly man whose attempts to get to the front of the jetliner prompted flight attendants and passengers to subdue him. and fighter jets to escort the plane. Passengers noticed him before the plane even took off. Mark and Donna Basden were among the first to board the plane Friday and found a laptop in the seat pocket of Mark Basden. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, couple assumed it was from the previous flight.
A flight attendant said it must belong to a man in the bathroom. Then a “disheveled looking fellow” walked out, Donna Basden said. Mark Basden handed the man the laptop, telling him it had been in his seat. He said the man scowled at him, took the laptop, opened it and closed it and then tried to sit in another seat in first class.
Donna Basden said the man “clearly looked out of place,” but he didn’t say anything. The flight attendant asked to see his boarding pass, then when she looked at it she told him he was in row 35 and sent him to the back of the plane. About halfway through the six-hour flight, the Basdens saw the same man, holding his laptop, with something over his head, which they thought was a towel or a blanket. The man, identified by law enforcement officials as Anil Uskanil, 25, of Turkey, was duct-taped to his seat until the plane landed in Honolulu and federal agents arrested him, passenger Lee Lorenzen said.
The trouble with Uskanil actually began about eight hours before the flight departed. He was arrested before dawn at Los Angeles International Airport for opening a door that led onto an airfield ramp, according to Los Angeles Airport Police, who provided Uskanil’s identity to The Associated Press. Police say Uskanil had been drinking but didn’t meet the criteria for public drunkenness. He was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor trespassing, given a date to appear in court and allowed to take the flight to Honolulu. Passenger Grant Arakelian said, “He was very quiet, moving very sluggish. He was trying to approach the cabin, like where the captain is.”
Lorenzen and his wife Penny Lorenzen, of Orange County, California, were sitting in first class and saw a “really serious look” on the flight attendant’s face.
The flight attendant ran down the aisle with her serving cart and blocked the doorway separating first class from the rest of the plane.
“She jammed the cart in that the doorway and she just said, ‘You’re not coming in here,'” Lee Lorenzen said. He said the man was pushing against the cart, trying to get through. At that point, passengers came up from behind and grabbed him. He was restrained in his seat with duct tape for the rest of the flight.
“He didn’t really fight or anything,” said Arakelian, a student at the University of Southern California.
“It caused worry on the plane, more curiosity than fear I would say because he wasn’t acting irrationally but you could tell something was kind off about him as well,” he said. “Once they took him to the back we never heard anything else about it.”
American Airlines Flight 31 had 181 passengers and six crew members aboard, said airline spokeswoman Katie Cody, who did not provide details on the incident. Uskanil having a laptop with him may have caused more concern than usual, with U.S. and European officials in recent weeks exchanging threats about aviation believed to include bombs hidden in laptop computers. Laptops have been banned on a handful of international flights, and could soon be outlawed on far more.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was briefed on the disturbance, according to a statement from the department. There are no other reports of disruptions, but the department said it is monitoring all flights Friday out of caution.
As Uskanil was subdued, the cockpit called for help. Federal agents were sent to wait for the flight’s arrival and two F-22 Raptors from the Hawaii Air National Guard scrambled to escort the plane.
“We got that military escort coming into Honolulu,” Donna Basden said with a laugh, “so welcome to Hawaii.”