By Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-AshleyJune 3, 2019
HONOLULU -- Four Soldiers assigned to the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command aided flight attendants on a Hawaiian Airlines flight in detaining a belligerent and unruly passenger, Feb. 27, 2019, while flying over the Pacific Ocean.
The service members aboard the flight were able to assist the flight attendants and deescalate the situation and ensure the safety for other passengers aboard the flight.
"We all assisted the flight attendants in what they needed to restrain and dissolve the situation as best as possible," said Pfc. Jason Ponto, an air defense battle management system operator.
They boarded flight HA459 for an upcoming training mission in Korea. Other passengers on the flight may have been going for vacation, family, or simply a connecting flight to their destination. A little turbulence is usually expected to come from weather conditions outside the plane, but not from the actions of a person aboard the plane.
Not long after the flight took off for its destination, one of the passengers had begun to display irate and possibly intoxicated behavior.
"We were a few hours in the flight bound for Incheon when I heard a male yelling and screaming, which caught my attention," stated Ponto. "I stayed in my seat until I had a flight attendant ask myself and Chief Mercer, who was sitting next to me, to assist with blocking the doors and pathways from this individual."
Not only was the intoxicated man a possible threat to himself; he quickly became a threat to those immediately around him.
"At one point while yelling, he stood up on the seat and actually stepped on the child next to him," said Capt. Robert O'Neill, an air defense artillery officer. "At this point Capt. Sasaki and I stood up and asked the closest flight attendant if there was any way we could assist her."
The situation was seemingly beginning to spiral out of control as the man became more irate than he previously was, but the four Soldiers were now alert and ready to aid the flight attendants how ever they could.
"The flight attendants did their best to calm the passenger down, but the harder they tried, the more riled up he became," said Chief Warrant Officer William Mercer, an all source technician. "At one point, he lunged out and tried to either grab or strike one of the flight attendants."
As the irate passenger continued, the Soldiers and the flight attendants were able to diffuse the situation as safely as possible.
"At this point a flight attendant walked up to me with flexi-cuffs and asked us if we knew how to use them, and asked for our assistance restraining the passenger," said O'Neill. "Capt. Sasaki and I then moved in on each side of the passenger and held his arms behind his back, then assisted her with the flexi-cuffs."
The passenger was then taken to the back of the plane and fastened into his seat to keep him completely restrained.
"We took shifts watching him to make sure he didn't hurt himself or anyone around him," Mercer stated. "We also had to provide some care because he was extremely drunk and possibly at risk for alcohol poisoning."
The flight was then re-directed back to Honolulu, Hawaii, due to the situation. The police were waiting on ground for the man who caused problems during the flight. The Soldiers and flight attendants were debriefed by law enforcement once back at the airport.
Brig. Gen. Michael Morrissey, the commander of 94th AAMDC and Command Sgt. Maj. Eric McCray, the command sergeant major of 94th AAMDC, had the opportunity to see the Soldiers recognized by employees of the Hawaiian Airlines during a luncheon, May 24, 2019.
"You could take whatever uniform, whether Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, if they were on that flight, they would've done the same thing," said Brig. Gen. Michael Morrissey.