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United passenger tried to open emergency door mid-flight and stab flight attendant in neck with metal spoon: Feds

United airplane

United Airlines airplane takes off from the south runway at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, March 2, 2023 in Los Angeles. (Ric Tapia via AP)

A Massachusetts man tried to open the emergency door in the middle of a United Airlines cross-country flight from Los Angeles to Boston, then tried to stab a flight attendant in the neck with the broken handle of a metal spoon when stopped, federal prosecutors say.

United’s early morning Flight 2609 had been about 45 minutes to its destination when the flight crew received an alarm in the cockpit that a side door was disarmed. Prosecutors say that a flight attendant “found that the door locking handle had been moved out of the fully locked position.”

“The handle had been moved approximately ¼ of the way towards the unlocked position,” the FBI wrote in an affidavit. “The emergency slide arming lever had also been moved to the ‘disarmed’ position.”

After the flight attendant reported the incident, the captain ordered an investigation, which prosecutors say led another flight attendant to identify 33-year-old Francisco Severo Torres as the suspect.

When “Flight Attendant 1” confronted him, Torres asked whether cameras showed him tampering with the door, prosecutors say. That flight attendant reported Torres as someone who “posed a threat to the aircraft” and advised the captain to “land the aircraft as soon as

Prosecutors say that Torres then saw “Flight Attendant 1” (FA 1) mouthing a conversation with “Flight Attendant 5” (FA 5).

“Torres had a shiny object in his right hand,” the FBI’s affidavit states. “When Torres got close to FA5, he thrust the shiny object at FA5 with a stabbing motion. FA5 felt the object in Torres’ hand hit him on his shirt collar and tie three times. Passengers tackled Torres to the ground and he was restrained with the assistance of flight crew.”

Authorities interviewed multiple passengers after the incident.

The first reported seeing Torres with “something shiny in his right hand.” The passenger then saw Torres throw a “punch” at FA5 with his left hand and “made a motion toward FA5’s neck with his right hand,” the FBI says.

The second passenger claimed that Torres asked during a preflight safety briefing “where on the safety card it showed where the door handle was located.”

The third passenger reported observing the first flight attendant’s confrontation with Torres.

“Passenger 3 observed FA1 confront Torres about tampering with the door,” the affidavit says. “Torres grew agitated. When Torres later got up from his seat, Passenger 3 followed him. Passenger 3 observed Torres try to stab FA5. Passenger 3 took Torres down to the floor and restrained him with the help of fellow passengers.”

The FBI says that it later determined what the “sharp” metal object was.

“The sharp object used to attack FA5 was located and determined to be the handle portion of a metal spoon, from which the bowl portion had been broken off,” the affidavit states.

Authorities say that Torres gave a confession, after receiving his Miranda warnings during his post-flight detention.

“Torres told investigators that he went into the bathroom on the plane and broke a spoon in half to make a weapon,” the affidavit states. “When he came out of the bathroom Torres went into the galley, disarmed the door, and tried to open it unsuccessfully. Torres had gotten the idea to open the emergency exit door and jump out of the plane. Torres admitted to knowing that if he opened the door many people would die. Torres stated that soon after that attempt, he was confronted by a couple of flight attendants. Torres advised that to defend himself, he tried to stab one of the flight attendants in the neck three or four times. Torres stated that he believed the flight attendant was trying to kill him, so he was trying to kill the flight attendant first.”

Torres is charged with interference and attempted interference with flight crew members and attendants using a dangerous weapon, which carries the possibility of life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. He has been ordered detained pending a hearing set for Thursday.

Read the affidavit here.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."