by Kevin Gray, Associated Press
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) - A United Airlines co-pilot overpowered a man
who tried to force his way into the cockpit by striking him over the head with
a hatchet midway through a flight from Miami on Thursday.
Other crew and several passengers then began wrestling with Pablo Moreira,
28, subduing him after a chaotic, 10-minute struggle.
Moreira, a banker from Uruguay, was restrained for the remainder of the flight,
the airline and the FBI said. A flight attendant also received minor injuries
in the struggle.
Moreira, who was lucid and in stable condition, was arrested when the jetliner
landed safely in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires as scheduled at 10:30
a.m. local time, said Judy Orihuela, an FBI spokeswoman in Miami. He was provided
It was not clear what prompted the man to try to enter the cockpit. Orihuela
said he was not armed and did not appear drunk.
Argentine authorities said they were investigating whether Moreira was under
the influence of drugs or mentally distraught. "He doesn't remember what
happened," said Jorge Reta, an Argentine Air Force spokesman.
"No information at this time indicates it's a terrorist incident,"
said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for President George W. Bush's Homeland Security
Council. "But, of course, the FBI is investigating."
The incident raised new questions about access to airplane cockpits in the
wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. United Airlines and American Airlines
have both reinforced their cockpit doors with metal bars, but some passenger
advocacy groups insisted Thursday that further steps are needed.
United spokeswoman Chris Nardella said Moreira kicked in a small breakaway
panel across the bottom half of the door and then stuck his head inside the
cockpit before a pilot grabbed an ax in the cockpit and clubbed him. The axes
are kept in the cockpit for emergencies.
Authorities said Moreira began kicking the cockpit door about five hours after
the midnight flight left Miami, carrying 157 people. Several passengers said
he was shouting that he wanted to talk to the pilot as he rushed to the front
of the plane.
Passengers recalled the 10-minute struggle as chaotic, with punches flying.
"You could look up from the aisle and see the whole cabin crew had rushed
to the scene and a big army of people trying to help out," said Brian Hopman,
an Associated Press sales associate aboard the flight.
"There was a huge panic," said Hopman, who was seated about halfway
back in the plane.
Another traveler, Lucia Tilia, said that once Moreira was restrained, pilots
used their belts to tie him down, later allowing him medical attention. "The
pilots had to hit him to tie him down," she said.
United Chairman and CEO Jack Creighton said in a statement the reinforced door
helped prevent Moreira from entering the cockpit.
But David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, a passenger
group, said Thursday's incident showed further security steps are needed beyond
the single bar now being used by some airlines to strengthen cockpit doors.
"There are vulnerabilities in the system put in place involving a single
bar across the door," he said. "By having a bar just in the middle
of the door it enables a terrorist to kick in the bottom and maybe crawl into
the cockpit or underneath the bar."
"Maybe they could put in additional bars," he said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation gave all airlines until early January
to strengthen cockpit doors. Many have done so, and the industry has said it
envisions newer and far stronger doors, although they are not yet available.
In Washington, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the suspect would
likely be extradited to the United States when he leaves the hospital.
FBI officials said they expected Moreira to be brought back to the United States,
where he would be charged with interfering with a flight crew.
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Law enforcement sources say there remains no evidence that Moreira has any
ties to known terrorist organizations.