Shocking footage shows the moment an American Airlines passenger attacked a unsuspecting flight attendant, sneaking up behind him and sucker punching the staffer aboard a flight from Mexico to Los Angeles. The incident transpired on Flight 377 from San Jose del Cabo to LAX on Wednesday, and saw the passenger removed from the plane after it touched down stateside. Upon arriving at the airport, the suspect – 33-year-old Alexander Tung Cuu Lee of Westminster – was detained on suspicion of interfering with a flight crew.
If found guilty of the offense, a federal felony, Lee, who allegedly threatened the male attendant before the filmed attack, could face up to 20 years in prison. He is expected to make an initial court appearance in downtown Los Angeles Thursday afternoon.
The incident reportedly started after the suspect started nonsensically mumbling to himself about ‘killers’ aboard the California-bound plane, reportedly whispering, ‘there are 10 killers on the plane.’ At that point, a female flight attendant reportedly went back to address the man, with the male attendant who was attacked joining to assist, passengers said. Video taken by passenger Barrie Livingstone shows the immediate aftermath of the encounter, with the male flight attendant standing in the aisle in front of the suspect, who is out of view and out of his seat.
The two seem to exchange words in an apparently tense encounter. Twice, the male attendant asks the disgruntled traveler, ‘Are you threatening me?’ Off-screen, the suspect appears to lurch toward the attendant, causing the staffer to say, ‘All right, that’s it,’ before turning his back to move away from the man. He then turns around and starts heading for the front of the plane when Lee suddenly attacks. Gasps can be heard as the unruly passenger, dressed in an orange Hawaiian shirt, sprints toward the unaware staffer from behind in the heart-pounding clip. The suspect then, while the attendant’s back is turned, strikes him in the back of the head with a closed fist. ‘Oh, my God!’ a passenger can be heard shouting amid the resulting chaos, after the seemingly middle-aged suspect lands the underhanded blow. ‘What are you doing?’
Amid the subsequent commotion, the worker who was attacked can be seen producing a phone to presumably call the authorities as the man backs off while seemingly admiring his handiwork, returning to his seat. Another crew member can be seen rushing to retrieve a pair of restraint cuffs. Coincidentally, also on board the plane was a producer for CBS San Diego affiliate KFMB-TV, who said passengers ‘helped restrain’ the suspect as staffers tied him to his seat with flex cuffs, a zip-tie-like device used by airlines to detain passengers.
A separate video on social media shows the airplane workers engaging in this act, as awestruck passengers look on. The suspect was then led off the plane by Los Angeles Airport Police once the plane landed, and has since been detained pending an investigation into the incident – which could see him charged with a federal crime. A spokesman for American Airlines said the man has since been permanently banned from flying with the carrier and was taken into police custody. Another witness said that the chaos broke out after the female flight attendant asked the man to sit down, before her male colleague went over to help, leading to the heated confrontation.
‘Acts of violence against our team members are not tolerated by American Airlines,’ spokesperson Derek Walls said in a statement Thursday of the incident. ‘The individual involved in this incident will never be allowed to travel with us in the future, and we will work closely with law enforcement in their investigation.’ The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), a union that represents more than 26,000 of flight attendants at American Airlines, also responded publicly to the alleged assault. ‘This violent behavior puts the safety of all passengers and crew in jeopardy and must stop,’ said Julie Hendrick, the national president of the flight attendants association. ‘APFA fully supports the affected crew members, and will do all possible to ensure that the passenger faces prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.’
According to the FAA, airlines have reported more than 3,000 incidents involving unruly passengers since January 1, with many involving passengers who refuse to comply with a federal requirement to wear face masks. While the FAA agency did not track such reports in prior years, a spokesman said it was safe to assume this year’s numbers are the highest ever. Since announcing a ‘zero-tolerance policy’ against unruly passengers in January, the FAA has publicized potential fines – some topping $30,000 – against dozens of passengers and has investigated more than 400 cases.
The move was praised by leaders of major flight attendant unions, who lobbied to create the training programs after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorists who hijacked four planes the day of the attacks assaulted several flight attendants and passengers before storming the cockpits. ‘Since a flight attendant was the first to perish, we wanted to make sure that we could protect ourselves from physical altercations, on and off the aircraft,’ said Lyn Montgomery, president of the union local that represents Southwest Airlines flight attendants. ‘Right now it’s really needed, it’s incredibly valuable.’
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, who also advocated making the classes mandatory, nonetheless praised TSA for restarting voluntary ones now because of the surge in confrontations on flights. ‘This should send a message to the public that these events are serious’ and that flight attendants are there to ensure the safety and security of everyone in the plane,’ she said. The number of unruly passenger incidents, meanwhile, have plummeted since face mask mandates for airplanes were dropped in April. Still, there have been nearly 680 investigations initiated by the FAA into such assault this year, far more than usual.
The FAA is currently investigating this incident. The suspect is still in custody, and has been charged with a federal count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.
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