After a passenger aboard United Airlines Flight 1074 failed to move away from the cockpit of the plane as instructed by a flight attendant, two quick-thinking executives from Navajo Express tackled and restrained the man until the plane could turn around and land.
Don Digby Jr., president of Navajo Express, headquartered in Denver, Colo., along with Scott Maldonado, director of sales, were aboard Flight 1074 headed from Dulles International Airport to Denver. A passenger became unruly shortly after takeoff around 10:15 p.m. on Monday, March 16.
“The plane was dark because it was nighttime, and I see this silhouette of an individual raising their arms,” Digby told Land Line on Thursday, March 19. “I then took off my headphones and looked over my seat and saw the absolute terror in our flight attendant’s eyes. I knew then that we needed to do something.”
“The first word I heard after I took my headphones off was the word jihad,” he said. “Then other times he was just rambling about his mom, the plane going down, they are in the belly of the plane, that we were all going to die.”
Digby said he stood up, and then Maldonado stood up after realizing there was a problem, and they approached the unruly passenger.
“Scott, who has a military background, subdued the passenger in a short period of time,” Digby said. “It was an intense 20 to 30 minutes. He was a lot stronger than either one of us had anticipated.
Digby said it took 100 percent of their “mental and physical capacity” to hold the passenger down.
“Scott took charge of the situation, telling me to get the lights turned on, check (the passenger) for bombs, remove his shoes,” he said. “Scott was calm and trying to get him to calm down as we frisked him while holding him down on the ground.”
Digby and Maldonado restrained the man, along with a third passenger who helped them hold the man’s head toward the end of the flight, until the plane had landed back at Dulles.
At the time, Digby said he didn’t have time to think about whether the man was a terrorist, mentally unstable, or possibly on drugs. He told Land Line he just knew that something wasn’t right and he had to act.
“Whether the unruly passenger said jihad or not, the same outcome would have happened to this individual,” he said.
He said what happened on the flight from Dulles didn’t really hit him until he boarded another flight from Denver to Phoenix on Wednesday, March 18.
“I was sitting there and I was a lot more aware, on edge,” he said. “I fly a lot of miles each year. I had to remember there are a lot of good people out there, and occasionally a bad person is out there that you need to take this kind of action with.”
As of late Tuesday, March 17, the unruly passenger, who has not been named, had not been arrested or charged with a crime. After the plane landed, the man was transported to a nearby hospital.
While some are calling Digby and Maldonado heroes, possibly saving 33 passengers and six crew members aboard the flight, Digby is quick to say that the “members of the U.S. military, fighting for our country, are the true heroes.”
“I am just a truck driver and I am blessed to be a truck driver,” he said. “Because next to the guys in the military, truck drivers rank right up there, too.”
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