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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Texas

Friday, September 23, 2016

Passenger Remains in Federal Custody on Federal Charge of Interfering with a Flight Crew

LUBBOCK, Texas — A Las Vegas man, Jerry Ba Nguyen, who was a passenger on American Airlines flight 2542 early yesterday morning in route from Ontario, California, to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, which was diverted to Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport, has been charged in a federal criminal complaint with interference with a flight crew, announced U.S Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Nguyen made his initial appearance this morning in the 364th Judicial District Court before the Honorable William R. Eichman, II, in Lubbock and was detained pending a detention hearing to be set by U.S. Magistrate Judge D. Gordon Bryant, Jr.

According to the complaint, Nguyen, 24, knowingly interfered and attempted to interfere with the performance of the duties of a flight crew member and flight attendant, lessening their ability to perform their duties, by assaulting and intimidating the flight attendant and flight crew member by refusing to comply with instructions from flight attendants and attempting to forcibly enter the cockpit.

Nguyen came to the attention of the flight attendants as the plane was leaving the gate in Ontario, appearing agitated and walking toward the front of the aircraft as it prepared to take off.  Flight attendants were able to calm him down, and the plane departed.  After takeoff, however, Nguyen’s erratic behavior continued; he mumbled that the SIM card had been stolen from his phone and he made suicidal statements.  He also stated that the police were not his friends, and the U.S. government was responsible for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Nguyen was asked to remain in his seat by the flight crew on multiple occasions, but refused.  Flight attendants were so concerned about his behavior that they recruited several passengers to assist with physically restraining Nguyen if it became necessary.

Upon final approach, Nguyen walked to the front of the aircraft and began banging on and kicking the cockpit door.  He was subdued by passengers at the request of the flight crew and then restrained with flex cuffs provided by the flight attendants,

The Captain declared an emergency and diverted the flight to Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport, where it landed safely.  Nguyen was removed from the plane and taken into custody

A federal complaint is a written statement of the essential facts of the offenses charged and must be made under oath before a magistrate judge.  The government has 30 days to present the matter to a grand jury for indictment.  A defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.   

The maximum statutory penalty, however, upon conviction, for the offense of interfering with a flight crew is 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Transportation Security Administration, the Lubbock Police Department and the Lubbock International Airport Police Department are investigating the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Haag is in charge of the prosecution.

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Updated September 23, 2016