Sacramento flight diverted by 'unruly' passenger


Feb 28, 2003
Sacramento flight diverted by 'unruly' passenger

By Cameron Jahn and Tony Bizjak -- Bee Staff Writers
Published 7:12 pm PDT Friday, April 21, 2006
[Updated: 11:25 p.m. Friday] Donna Bell didn't think much about the man
roaming the aisle of her Sacramento-bound flight Friday, until he tried to open
the emergency exit door and shouted that he had a bomb hidden in his camera.
"Had he opened the door, we'd all be dead," said Bell, who was returning from
a trip to Holland.

Bell, who lives near Visalia, said she was relieved to land in Sacramento
after the airliner's cabin and cargo hold were searched by bomb-sniffing dogs
during a stop-over at Denver International Airport. No explosives were found.
The passenger, identified by the FBI as Jose Manuel Pelayo-Ortega, was taken
into custody at the Denver airport.
Passengers said the United Airlines flight from Chicago was about 150 miles
from Denver, when Pelayo-Ortega, who had been roaming the aisle, suddenly
announced that he wanted to get off the plane. But before he could twist the
handle on the emergency door, a flight attendant leapt up to stop him.
Witnesses said Pelayo-Ortega then swung at the flight attendant before he was
put in a choke hold and thrown to the floor by crew members and passengers,
including three Secret Service agents traveling between assignments. The
agents wrestled Pelayo-Ortega away from the door and duct-taped him to his seat.
Pelayo-Ortega was being held Friday night at the Denver Police Department
pending federal charges, said Monique Kelso, FBI spokeswoman.
"It is premature at this time to say what the charges will be," she said. "We
probably will not know until Monday."
Authorities did not disclose Pelayo-Ortega's age, city of residence or other
personal information.
Joe Peña, a senior airman at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, said the
in-flight fracas went by quickly, but he described the scene like a bar fight
that passengers standing and craning their necks to get a look.
"I heard a bunch of commotion, and I heard somebody yell 'What are you doing'
and 'Get down,' then I saw the guy put into a chokehold, put on his back and
pinned down so he couldn't move," Peña said in Sacramento, after hugging his
tearful wife, Candy.
When she got a call from her husband, Candy Peña thought he had arrived in
Denver ahead of schedule.
"Then he said there was a guy trying to get into the cockpit and that he had
a bomb," she said while waiting with her two young children for the flight to
touch down. "I was worried, definitely."
Ian Grossman, who was traveling from Chicago to see his brother in Manteca,
was grateful for his quick-thinking fellow passengers.
"That saved us," he told a throng of reporters in the baggage claim area.
"You don't know what will happen if a guy like that is loose in the cabin."
The Airbus A320, which left Chicago at 3:14 p.m. local time, landed at the
Denver airport at 4:37 p.m.
Passengers said two fighter jets, which the Associated Press said were F-16s
from Buckley Air Force Base, scrambled to escort the plane as it flew into
Local Denver and federal authorities, as well and firefighters surrounded the
plane after it landed and taxied to a remote area of the airport. Passengers
were quickly removed from the plane and bused to the terminal.
"It was very organized," said Bruce Grogan of Sacramento. "I was very
FBI spokeswoman Kelso said no passengers appeared to have been injured.
A spokesman for United Airlines, Brandon Borrman, said reports indicate
Pelayo-Ortega was traveling with others, but he did not know whether they were
family members.
Several passengers said Pelayo-Ortega's brother, a passenger, sat with him
after he was restrained.
Authorities declined to say what may have caused Pelayo-Ortega to try to open
an emergency door.
The jet, carrying 138 passengers and six crew members, was allowed to leave
Denver for Sacramento at 6:30 p.m. PDT and arrived at Sacramento International
Airport at 9 p.m.
Dave Reno, waiting in Sacramento, said the in-flight action apparently didn't
bother his wife, Pat, a passenger, who called from Denver to "matter of
factly" report the delay.
"It was a courtesy call to tell me she would be late," he said. "She and I
both understand that if it's going to happen, it's going to happen."