On Wednesday, United Airlines Flight UA728 took off from Newark at 08:20 on its way to Miami. At 10:06, it touched down in Charleston, having diverted to off-load a sedated and restrained passenger who had struck and injured no less than three of his fellow passengers. The man is now held in South Carolina on charges of drug possession, with federal charges pending.
Yesterday, March 17th, the United flight, operated by a Boeing 737-800, was on its way from Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, to Miami International Airport, Florida.
A little less than an hour after departure, one of the passengers became increasingly unruly. Following an altercation between the highly agitated man and some of his fellow travelers, the Captain made the decision to divert the plane to Charleston, South Carolina.
Initial reports of ear-biting
Local authorities were called to the plane. According to the incident report, they boarded and came upon the 45-year old troublemaker face down in the aisle. He had been restrained, and his wrists were fastened behind his back and secured to his belt with a zip-tie. A man who identified himself as a physician said he had given the suspect, identified as John Yurkovich, a shot in the buttocks with the antihistamine Benadryl to help sedate him.
According to Count On News 2, before boarding, the officers had received reports of ‘someone’s ear being bitten off’. However, there was no such mention in their incident report.
Lacerations and a broken nose
Meanwhile, the passenger sitting next to the suspect did suffer a laceration to his left ear as a result of his glasses breaking from the impact of a punch from Yurkovich. The injured row-cohabitant said that the 45-year old had asked the flight attendant for some water, then gotten out of his seat and retrieved what looked like pills from his carry-on.
He then sat back down in an agitated state and proceeded to ‘thrash around’ and shout. First, he punched his seat neighbor in the face, breaking his glasses. He then hit a second man from the row behind who tried to intervene. Reports say the man may have suffered a broken nose. Another interjector was hit across the side of the head but not severely injured.
A four-hour delay and FBI charges on the way
The officials escorted the man off the plane and took statements from witnesses to the reported assault. According to WBTV, they later discovered 1.5 grams of methamphetamine in the man’s pocket. He was charged with possession with intent to distribute and held at the Al Cannon Detention Center.
A judge has set the surety bond to $50,000. As criminal offenses committed aboard an aircraft are subject to the jurisdiction of federal courts, additional charges from the FBI are still pending.
The plane, a Boeing 737-800 with registration N76503, was then cleared to take off. It arrived in Miami with a delay of four hours and 26 minutes at 14:00 local time.
United Airlines confirmed that Flight UA728 was diverted to Charleston due to a disruptive passenger on board but referred any further questions to local authorities.
Have you ever experienced a diversion because of an incident on board? Tell us about your experience in the comments.