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Press Release

Airline passenger with box cutter who caused flight to be diverted has been indicted

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Georgia

ATLANTA - William Allen Liebisch has been charged with interfering with the duties of a flight crew after he brought a box cutter aboard a Fronter Airlines flight and told a fellow passenger that he wanted to stab someone, which required the pilot to make an emergency landing in Atlanta.

“People have the right to travel in peace and free from fear of their fellow passengers,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan. “Passengers who disrupt flights with threats of violence will quickly learn that they will be answering for their conduct in federal court.”

“The FBI is committed to doing its part to prevent violence, intimidation, and threats of violence that endanger passenger and flight crew safety on commercial flights”, said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta.  “Hopefully this indictment proves that the federal government takes all threats on aircrafts seriously and violators who disrupt travel will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“Unruly passenger behavior is unsafe and disruptive to the traveling public, as well as the flight crew,” said Todd Damiani, Special Agent-In-Charge, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, Southern Region. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to pursue and hold accountable those who choose to engage in such reckless activity while aboard commercial aircraft.”

According to U.S. Attorney Buchanan, the indictment, and other information presented in court: On November 11, 2022, Liebisch was a passenger aboard a Frontier Airlines flight from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Tampa, Florida. He passed through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint in the Cincinnati airport, where TSA officers found a box cutter in his possession but mistakenly believed that they had rendered it inoperable by removing its blade.

Once the flight had taken off, Liebisch inserted a spare blade that was stored in the handle of the box cutter. A passenger saw Liebisch use the box cutter to clean his nails. Another passenger reported to two flight attendants that Liebisch said that he was going to stab someone. Because there were no law enforcement officers on the flight, one attendant asked two male passengers to assist. One passenger stood in the back nearby while the other took the seat of the passenger who made the report to the flight attendants. Both men and a flight attendant tried to keep Liebisch calm and under control for the remainder of the flight.

While this was happening, the captain made an emergency landing at the nearest airport, which was Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Once the plane landed, the passengers were instructed to deplane immediately and to leave their belongings on the plane. Atlanta Police Department (APD) officers were at the gate but did not get on the plane to avoid antagonizing Liebisch, who was in the rear of the plane with the two male passengers. As the last passengers deplaned, Liebisch charged toward a flight attendant at the front of the plane while holding his box cutter. One of the passengers tackled him from behind, and APD officers rushed on the plane to subdue Liebisch. He stopped resisting as soon as they said they would use a taser on him if he did not comply. A subsequent search of his carry-on bag uncovered a second box cutter.

After Liebisch’s arrest, the plane was not able to continue its trip to Tampa until the following morning.

William Allen Liebisch, 42, of Cincinnati, Ohio, has been charged with interfering with the duties of a flight crew, and carrying a weapon aboard an airplane. The magistrate court ordered him to remain in custody pending trial.  Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges.  The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges, and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul R. Jones is prosecuting the case.

For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016.  The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.

Updated December 8, 2022

Topics
Violent Crime