A Leominster man was arrested Sunday for allegedly trying to open an emergency exit door during a flight from Los Angeles to Boston and attacking a flight attendant with a broken spoon, according to US Attorney Rachael S. Rollins’s office.
Francisco Severo Torres, 33, made his initial appearance Monday in federal court in Boston on a sole count of interference and attempted interference with flight crew members and attendants using a dangerous weapon, federal prosecutors said.
Torres was ordered held pending a detention hearing on Thursday, officials said. A request for comment was sent to Torres’s public defender Monday.
He attracted the attention of the United Airlines flight crew about 45 minutes before landing in Boston, when a cockpit alarm sounded indicating that a “starboard side door” between the first-class and coach sections had been disarmed, prosecutors said.
A flight attendant found that a handle had been moved out of the fully locked position and that the emergency slide arming lever had been “disarmed.” The attendant secured the door and slide and reported the matter to the captain and crew, Rollins’s office said.
Another flight attendant reported having seen Torres near the door and believed he had tampered with it.
The crew confronted Torres, who responded by asking if any cameras had captured him altering the door, prosecutors said. That prompted an attendant to notify the captain that Torres posed a threat and that the plane should land as soon as possible, prosecutors said.
At that point, Torres allegedly got out of his seat and approached two flight attendants standing by the starboard door.
“One of the flight attendants saw Torres mouthing something that he could not hear,” prosecutors said. “Torres then allegedly thrust towards one of the flight attendants in a stabbing motion with a broken metal spoon, hitting the flight attendant on the neck area three times.”
Passengers tackled Torres, who was restrained with the flight crew’s assistance, prosecutors said. He was immediately placed into custody once the plane landed in Boston.
The following video, posted to social media, may contain sensitive content:
Passengers also told investigators Torres had “asked a fellow passenger where on the safety card it showed where the door handle was located during the flight attendants’ safety briefing prior to takeoff and that Torres was seen pacing in a galley before attacking the flight attendant,” prosecutors said.
After the plane landed in Boston, State Police removed Torres and detained him at the agency’s airport barracks, where he was interviewed and reportedly admitted to investigators that he went into a bathroom on the plane and broke a spoon in half to make a weapon, according to an affidavit filed in the case.
This shows fellow passengers on United Flight 2609 subduing Francisco Severo Torres, of Leominster, Mass., after he allegedly tried to open an emergency exit door midflight and stabbed a flight attendant multiple times. (📷 Simik Ghookasian via ABC News) https://t.co/giAarNd91A pic.twitter.com/qKAhD1mMsD— WCVB-TV Boston (@WCVB) March 6, 2023
Torres told investigators that he had attempted to open the emergency exit door to jump out of the plane and admitted to knowing that if he did, many people would die, according to the affidavit, written by a Boston police detective working as a federal task force officer for the FBI assigned to the airport to investigate federal crimes.
The affidavit went on to say that Torres claimed he was defending himself when he tried to stab one of the flight attendants in the neck.
“Torres stated that he believed the flight attendant was trying to kill him, so he was trying to kill the flight attendant first,” the report said.
United Airlines praised the response of crew members and passengers on the flight.
“Thanks to the quick action of our crew and customers, one customer was restrained after becoming a security concern on a flight from Los Angeles to Boston,” the airline said in a statement. “The flight landed safely and was met by law enforcement. No serious injuries were reported.
“We have zero tolerance for any type of violence on our flights, and this customer will be banned from flying on United,” the airline said. “We are cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation.”
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said the union is proud of the crew.
“Violence has no place anywhere and certainly not in a closed cabin flying several miles in the air,” Nelson said in a statement. “Aviation’s first responders are charged with the safety of everyone onboard. When incidents like this happen, it not only risks the safety of the crew involved, it takes away from Flight Attendants’ ability to respond to medical, safety, or security emergencies. Bottom line: it puts everyone at risk and there’s zero tolerance for that.”
Nelson said the union is “thankful for the FBI’s quick action on this.”
The union said the incident occurred on United flight 2609. The flight took off from LAX shortly before 8:25 a.m. Sunday and landed in Boston at 4:13 p.m., according to FlightAware.
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.