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R.I. woman says United Airlines crew and passengers stopped Leominster man on flight: ‘He was out of control’

A passenger has been charged with attacking flight attendants on Los Angeles to Boston flight.
A Leominster man was arrested for allegedly attacking a flight attendant on a flight from LA to Boston. (Video courtesy of Lisa Olsen)

Boarding the Boston-bound flight in Los Angeles, Lisa J. Olsen took no notice of the bearded man in a seat two rows behind her on United Airlines Flight 2609 Sunday. With less than an hour before landing, Olsen, her husband, their 17-year-old daughter and other passengers had no choice but to pay attention to him.

“He was just starting to ramble, saying that he was going to kill people on the flight, that his father was Dracula. He just started rambling about the Nazis and all kinds of stuff,” Olsen said as two passengers, a man and a woman, tried to calm him down.


“And then a very large, like built, guy came from the back of the plane and started walking towards him. And when he saw this guy approaching, that’s when he kind of jumped into the aisle,” said Olsen, who lives in East Greenwich, R.I. “He started running towards the front of the plane. ... My daughter was extremely upset and crying. She thought the plane was going to crash.”

The man, later identified as Francisco Severo Torres, 33, of Leominster, had an object in his hand as he rushed toward the cockpit. Flight attendants used themselves as human shields even as the suspect slashed three times at the throat of a male flight attendant with a broken metal spoon he used as a knife.

Seconds later, multiple passengers descended on the suspect from behind and in front of him, knocking him to the ground and using plastic ties provided by the crew to bind his hands. The flight attendant was not harmed.

It wasn’t over.

“Somehow he escaped. He was out of control,’' said Olsen, noting another set of plastic ties were used to successfully secure Severo Torres a second time. “It took four men to hold him down. ... It was just amazing how all of these passengers and crew just, you know, without hesitation just stepped in to control him.”


Olsen, who had started filming the incident, said that during the final 30 minutes of the trip, male passengers took turns keeping Severo Torres under control, swapping out when people grew tired.

No one asked them to help, she said. They just did it.

“I felt safe,” she said.

Passengers did not talk excitedly among themselves during the last 30 minutes of the flight, she said. There was no applause once the crisis had passed.

“It was eerily quiet,” she said.

Once Severo Torres was under control, she thought his apparent effort to reach the cockpit was the totality of the danger she and the other passengers faced.

Video shows a man allegedly trying to open cabin door, attack flight attendant
Video shows a Mass. man allegedly trying to open the cabin door and attack flight attendants during a flight from LA to Boston. (Video courtesy of Lisa Olsen)

But before the confrontation in the aisle, Severo Torres had attempted to open an emergency exit door at the rear of the plane, crew members contended. He managed to open it 25 percent of the way before abandoning the effort, they said.

But his tampering triggered an alarm in the cockpit, leading the crew to secure the door once again, according to an affidavit by Boston police Detective Thomas M. Menino Jr., who is assigned to an FBI task force.

The crew confronted Severo 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 Severo Torres posed a threat and the plane should land as soon as possible, prosecutors said.


After the arrest of Severo Torres, investigators said, he had told them he had gone into the bathroom during the flight and broke a spoon in half to make a weapon. He then disarmed the door and tried unsuccessfully to open it.

“Torres had gotten the idea to open the emergency exit door and jump out of the plane,” the affidavit said. “Torres admitted to knowing that if he opened the door many people would die.”

According to investigators, Severo Torres said he tried to stab one of the flight attendants because he believed the attendant was trying to kill him.

On Monday, Severo Torres made his initial appearance in US District Court in Boston, where he was ordered held until a court hearing on Thursday, according to court records.

Neither his relatives nor his public defender could be reached for comment.

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.

Olsen said she is convinced that Severo Torres’s actions were the result of mental health issues.

“I’m not a doctor, but it seemed like it was mental illness,’' she said.

Olsen said she will fly again and that her husband took a flight on Monday for his Ohio-based company.


“I felt like they [the crew and passengers] had everything under control. And there was no slip-up from my perspective,” she said. “Everybody kind of worked together. So I have no hesitation flying.”

Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him @JREbosglobe.