Passengers ended up restraining the female flight attendant in a forward seat of the cabin until the plane returned to the gate and airport police arrived.
Two flight attendants were injured in the incident and were taken to a local hospital. No passengers were injured, and they were never in danger, an airline spokeswoman said.
The flight attendant who caused the commotion shrieked as she was handcuffed by police and placed into a police car, passengers on the flight told the Tribune after they exited the plane at Chicago O’Hare.
“I will never get that sound of her screaming out of my head,” said Bethany Christakos of Plano, Texas. “It took a good 10 minutes, it felt like, to get her off of the plane.”
Other passengers said the incident ended after about 15 minutes, but it made them nervous. “We were pretty frightened,” said Elmhurst resident Greg Lozano. “I was glad we weren’t in the air. That was the primary thing I was thinking.”
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed there was an “altercation” involving American Airlines Flight 2332, which eventually landed at Chicago O’Hare at 11:46 a.m., more than an hour late.
According to reports by passengers, the trouble began Friday morning as the plane taxied to the runway for takeoff. A flight attendant who had been giving preflight safety instructions began speaking incoherently over the intercom system, confusing and startling passengers.
The attendant said the plane had a mechanical issue and was going to return to the airport gate. However, other flight attendants interrupted and said there were no mechanical issues and that the plane was preparing for takeoff.
The upset flight attendant then said over the public-address system that it would not be her fault if the plane crashed. She began speaking in incomplete sentences, using the words “bankruptcy” and “American Airlines,” passengers said. She also referred to the 9/11 terrorist attacks at one point, passengers said.
Some passengers then began using mobile phones to call 911.
Other flight attendants on the plane attempted to calm the woman, but she continued to be agitated. Three or four passengers then left their seats and went to the front of the plane to help restrain her as the plane returned to the gate, a move requested by the pilot, the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed.
Brad LeClear of Fox Lake was among the passengers to help. He was returning to Chicago from a business trip. He and several of his Sam’s Club colleagues helped restrain the flight attendant. “She was making erratic statements over the PA and mentioned that everybody was going to crash,” LeClear said. “That’s when it really got out of control.”
Steve Termunde, also returning from the Sam’s Club business trip, said passengers thought at first that the flight attendant didn’t realize she was speaking over the public-address system. But as she continued a rant, they realized something was wrong. “When she said ‘crash’ twice, we knew something was wrong,” he said. “That’s when everyone started to undo their seatbelts, and we were ready to take action ourselves.”
A pilot who was catching a ride on the plane in first class approached the woman, who was standing near the pilot’s cockpit door, along with other flight attendants. “He got up and tried to subdue her, tried to take the mic away because she kept talking on the mic and getting everybody a little nervous and upset,” Termunde said.
That’s when other passengers came to help. “It was a good wrestle to get her to her seat,” he said. “There were about five people holding her down.”
Some passengers said the woman appeared to be having a mental breakdown. One passenger said the flight attendant mentioned that she suffered from a bipolar condition and that she had not taken her medication.
“She was in a manic-type state,” LeClear said. “I tried to talk her down and calm her down a little bit. She said she was bipolar. We continued to hold her until authorities arrived and when they showed up we helped get the cuffs on.”
A flight attendant who appeared to be injured while attempting to restrain the woman was placed on a gurney and taken away in an ambulance.