A Turkish man says ‘butterfly hallucinations’ were the cause of his violent outburst on a flight to Hawaii in May that resulted in fighter jets being called to escort the plane down.
A butterfly suddenly came out of the front pocket of the seat in front of him, Anil Uskanli said in a Honolulu federal court on Tuesday as he pleaded guilty to interfering with a flight crew on the May 19 American Airlines flight from Los Angeles.
‘The butterfly went crazy… flew into the toilet,’ he said. ‘I followed it. I tried to kill it by punching it.’
The 25-year-old added that he now realizes that he was ill and hallucinating.
Authorities say Uskanli inspired so much fear among flight attendants that military fighter jets were scrambled to escort the plane to Hawaii. He raised a series of possible red flags between purchasing his ticket and being the first passenger to board the American Airlines flight.
Anil Uskanli is arrested after his flight disturbance in May (pictured). He plead guilty Tuesday to interfering with a flight crew and said he was hallucinating butterflies during his outburst
Uskanli, of Turkey, purchased his ticket about midnight and went through security screening at Los Angeles International Airport. About 2:45am he opened a door that led to an airfield ramp, airport police said.
Authorities revealed that the 25-year-old from Turkey was kicked out of the airport before the flight, when he opened a door to the airfield
He smelled of alcohol, but he wasn’t intoxicated enough to be held for public drunkenness, so police cited and released him.
Uksanli’s boarding pass was confiscated, and he was walked out to a public area of the airport, police said. He went back, got another boarding pass for the flight and went through security screening again.
Even though he was traveling to Hawaii, he didn’t have any checked luggage or any carry-ons, other than a laptop, a phone and items in his pocket, according an FBI criminal complaint.
Before takeoff, he sat in a first-class seat and had to be asked several times to move to his assigned seat toward the back of the plane, the complaint said.
While the six-hour flight was midair, Uskanli, with his head swathed in a blanket, tried to get to the front of the plane. When he put his laptop on a drink cart a flight attendant used to block him, flight attendants feared the computer contained explosives, prompting the captain to initiate bomb-threat procedures.
Two Hawaii National Guard fighter jets escorted the plane to Honolulu, and Uskanli was arrested when it landed.
After the flight landed in Honolulu and Uskanli was arrested, a judge ordered a mental competency evaluation at the request of his defense attorney. He was sent to a federal detention facility in Los Angeles to undergo the evaluation.
But Uskanli boarded the flight after getting a new ticket from the front desk and going back through security. He’s seen above being taken off the flight in May
After causing a ruckus on the flight, the pilot scrambled fighter jets to escort the plane to Hawaii, where police were waiting on the ground to take Uksanli into custody
Assistant U.S. Attorney Morgan Early argued that he should be held without bail because he’s a danger to the community and suffers from a ‘major mental illness.’ Mansfield ruled that he was competent for trial and must be held without bail.
Tuesday’s hearing was delayed by about two hours because Engin Turkalp, a Turkish interpreter, was late. When the hearing finally got under way, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson abruptly left the bench and seemed frustrated over Turkalp’s apparent inability to effectively translate the proceeding.
When Watson returned to the courtroom, he continued with the proceeding without using the interpreter and told Uskanli to use her if necessary.
The lawyers in the case had requested the interpreter as a precaution even though Uskanli reads, speaks and understands English.
His student visa had been revoked because he wasn’t attending school, his immigration attorney Gary Singh said Tuesday.
Uskanli faces deportation proceedings, but he plans to return to Turkey on his own, Singh said: ‘He just wants to go home. He’s sick and wants to go home to get help.’
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. But prosecutors don’t expect to ask for more incarceration than what Uskanli has already served.
Because he had walked into the restricted area at the airport and he was determined to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, crew members helped him to the plane using a wheelchair, the original complaint said.
An American Airlines spokesman said, however, that it was Uskanli who requested the wheelchair at the ticket counter, then went through security and on to the gate for the flight.
Above, Uksanli in the back of a police car after arriving in Hawaii shortly after his arrest
At the door of the plane, flight attendants helped Uskanli, the complaint said.
Passengers told the FBI that Uskanli acted strangely on the flight, including talking about being a famous actor and pounding on walls after someone walked into a restroom he had left unlocked.
Flight attendants were afraid of his laptop, the complaint said, because they are aware ‘that laptop computers potentially pose a new threat to airplane security because they may contain explosives that are undetected by airport screening measures.’
The captain initiated bomb threat procedures, and flight attendants barricaded the laptop with crew bags. An off-duty law enforcement officer sat with Uskanli for the remainder of the flight, the complaint said.
No explosives were found after the plane landed. FBI agents then interviewed Uskanli.
‘When I asked him if he ever had terroristic thoughts, he responded, ‘We all have those ideas,” an agent wrote in an affidavit.
The agent asked again later about terroristic thoughts. In response, Uskanli made a gun shape with his fingers and pretended to shoot her, she wrote.
‘He then did a gesture simulating a chopping motion toward my neck,’ the agent wrote.
He then told another agent, ‘I’ll kill her, get out the following day and shoot myself,’ according to the court documents.
The complaint said he consented to a urine test and field sobriety tests. The urinalysis was presumptively positive for benzodiazepine, a tranquilizer, and the field tests indicated possible use of stimulants or cannabis, the complaint said.