More disturbing details are surfacing about the Turkish national arrested for interfering with a flight crew on a plane heading to Honolulu.
Anil Uskanli, 25, appeared in federal court Monday, charged with Interference of a Flight Crew and/or Flight Attendants, a felony offense, for an incident on board American Airlines Flight 31 last Friday.
At the request of his attorney, a judge ordered Uskanli to undergo a mental evaluation.
A criminal complaint filed in advance of his appearance claimed he told FBI agents he had terroristic thoughts, adding he would kill an agent and then shoot himself.
The affidavit said Anil Uskanli was the first of 181 passengers to board the aircraft in Los Angeles, with no carry-on or checked luggage, instead carrying only a laptop and charger, phone and other items in his pockets. Crew had assisted him to the boarding ramp in wheelchair, after having been caught in a restricted area of LAX and “determined to be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.”
He sat in first class, instead of his assigned seat toward the rear of the plane, and was instructed multiple times to move. Witnesses told the FBI he acted strange, talked to himself, and repeatedly moved his laptop from the seatback to under the seat. He later used the restroom without locking the door and began yelling and pounding on walls. That’s when the captain initiated a level-one security measure and the flight deck was locked down.
Later, he wrapped a blanket on his head and carried his laptop toward the front of the plane, where a flight attendant used a drink cart to block the aisle before the first class cabin. The FBI says Uskanli pushed it, the attendant called for help, and several passengers responded. Uskanli placed the laptop on the cart before being walked to the back of the plane by an off-duty law-enforcement officer.
“…flight attendants were immediately frightened of the laptop… 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 affidavit says. After fighter-jet-escorted landing just before midday in Honolulu, Uskanli was taken into custody, all passengers and bags were screened; the laptop was investigated for explosives with “negative result.”
The captain called in a level-four emergency, which initiated bomb threat procedures, and jet fighter planes were called in to escort the flight to Honolulu. No explosives were found on the flight.
After Uskanli was arrested, FBI agents interviewed him and asked if he had any terroristic thoughts. His response, according to court records: “We all have those ideas.”
During that interview records say he made a gun shape with his fingers and pretended to shoot the agent, then threatened another agent by saying “I’ll kill her.”
Urinalysis after Uskanli’s arrest tested “presumptively positive for benzodiazepine” while a series of field sobriety tests indicated “possible use of stimulants and/or cannabis.”
In court, Uskanli’s attorney said he questioned Uskanli’s mental capabilities.
“Some of the things that we talked about when I met with him and the marshals, and also some of the ways in which the incident was described in the criminal complaint seemed to me to raise some questions,” said federal public defender Peter Wolff.
Wolff says the mental evaluation will probably take place at a facility in Los Angeles. Uskanli will then be flown back to Honolulu to proceed with his trial. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted.
It’s still unclear why Uskanli flew to Hawaii in the first place.
Response from Los Angeles International Airport Police
KHON2 wanted to know, how did Uskanli even make it on the plane when he was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport just hours before boarding?
At around 2:45 a.m., Los Angeles International Airport Police say Uskanli walked through an emergency exit door that led to an airfield ramp and asked a worker where he could find “food.”
Uskanli was arrested for trespassing, but police let him go in less than an hour.
Though they say the 25-year-old smelled like alcohol, we’re told he was cooperative.
“He was able to care for himself, and able to function, so he was escorted out to the public side. His boarding pass was confiscated. He was arrested, cited, released on site, and they directed him to find out where he can find food,” explained Los Angeles International Airport Police spokesman Rob Pedregon.
Public intoxication is common at LAX.
“We’re very familiar with public intoxication,” said Pedregon. “We run across this on a daily basis several times a day. It’s not something uncommon for us to handle. A lot of people who are nervous to travel have a few drinks to steady their nerves.”
Was American Airlines told of Uskanli’s arrest prior to boarding the flight? Airport police admitted no.
“He wasn’t deemed a threat. There wasn’t a need to contact the airlines. The actions afterwards, of course, changes the game. Out of hindsight, 20/20 situation,” said Pedregon.
“Are you reviewing any procedures in light of what happened?” KHON2 asked.
“What we do is, we take every situation and we debrief it, and extrapolate what’s good and what’s bad. We learn lessons in everything that we do. Not to say I can tell you anything will change specifically, but it will absolutely be looked at. Procedures will be checked and verified. We’ll find out what we can do better. We’re always looking into what we can improve,” Pedregon responded.
The decision by airport police not to tell American Airlines of Uskanli’s arrest does not sit well with Sara Nelson, president of The Association of Flight Attendants.
“There should have been better communication and more information for those involved as he was boarding the plane,” she said. “The Association of Flight Attendants has a lot of questions here about what happened at Los Angeles and whether the events that led up to the incident were caused by the current state of aviation. Are people looking away? Are people letting problems pass? We’re very concerned. This is the type of thinking and lackadaisical approach that led to the events of September 11.”
The Association of Flight Attendants says it will follow up with aviation authorities and regulators.