Local

Passenger tries to open door on Houston to Chicago flight

Monday, May 09, 2011

A flight heading from Houston to Chicago was diverted when an unruly passenger allegedly tried to open a plane door.

The incident caused Continental Flight No. 546 to divert to Lambert International Airport in St. Louis on Sunday afternoon.

Another passenger has been credited with stopping the suspect from opening that exit.

Tony Harris is a 60-year-old Vietnam War veteran who also has martial arts training. Harris says he was supposed to sit in seat 23 but for some reason the airline switched him into seat 12. He says that had he been in the back of the plane, he may never have heard the commotion in the front. The Chicago native was flying in from Houston to surprise his 84-year-old mom Virginia Harris on Mother's Day.

"When I heard what happened, he was destined to be on the flight to save people," Virginia Harris said about her son.

About an hour and a half into the flight, Harris heard the flight attendant scream. He immediately jumped out of his seat to help with the unruly passenger.

"He just pushed her right over, so he assaulted her. Well at that time I'm already in motion," Harris said.

Harris says the passenger was a husky guy who grabbed the door handle to the plane door. Two other passengers tried to subdue the man but didn't have any luck, so Harris put his martial arts training to work.

"What I did was I just jumped on him,I wrapped my legs around him, I put my 210 pounds of weight on his neck and he still wouldn't go down," Harris said.

After two more tries that included a knee in the man's back, Harris got the passenger down and lost the heel to his shoe in the process. The 34-year-old unruly passenger was placed in handcuffs and Harris was in charge of sitting next to him until the plane landed in St. Louis.

"And I asked him, 'What in the hell were you doing? What were you thinking?' He said, 'Well, it's Mother's Day,'" Harris said.

It was Mother's Day that drove Harris to stop the passenger from opening the plane door and bringing the plane and all the passengers down with him. Sonia Cunningham is grateful for Harris who was sitting right behind her.

"I think it's great and I think we should continue to fly because if we let foolish people dictate how we live our lives we might as well say they've won," Cunningham said.

Harris' heroic efforts does not surprise his mother. After all, it was her oldest son who was wearing a Superman shirt in a childhood painting at her house.

"The greatest Mother's Day gift. I haven't had my son in quite a while," Virginia Harris said.

The 34-year-old Burbank man was taken into custody in St. Louis. So far, charges have not been filed. Officials are saying this was not an act of terrorism.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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