A Utah man has been charged with carrying a weapon on an airplane and assault with a deadly weapon after holding a razor to the throat of the passenger sitting next to him, federal prosecutors said this week.
The encounter was the latest example of unruly behavior that law enforcement officials say has become more common in the skies as air traffic resumes after a major drop due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The man, Merrill Darrell Fackrell, 41, of Syracuse, Utah, was on a JetBlue flight from New York’s Kennedy International Airport to Salt Lake City on Monday when he put his hand in front of the woman’s video screen sitting next to him. and told him to pause his movie, prosecutors said.
The woman took off her headphones and realized that Mr Fackrell was holding what appeared to be a knife – it was later identified as a wooden-handled razor with a one- to two-inch blade – a few centimeters from his throat, according to a statement released Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah.
Mr Fackrell, who was sitting on the window seat, then got up and started shouting: “She will be fine” and “Nobody has to worry”, according to a complaint filed on Tuesday with the U.S. District Court in Utah. He also told the woman’s husband, who was sitting in the aisle seat, to “get out of there,” punctuating the request for an expletive state and billing for documents.
The woman’s husband went to the front of the plane to find a flight attendant, and the woman ‘rushed’ down the aisle to escape as Mr Fackrell tried to futile to stop him by grabbing his shoulder, according to the complaint.
A passenger who saw the encounter managed to persuade Mr Fackrell to place the razor on the seat next to him, according to the charging documents. The passenger then grabbed the razor before sitting next to Mr Fackrell for the rest of the flight, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, Mr Fackrell, who had “a long and varied conversation” with the woman before the encounter, consumed “several” alcoholic beverages.
A listed attorney for Mr. Fackrell, L. Clark Donaldson, did not immediately return phone and email messages Thursday.
The charges against Mr Fackrell came as airline crews continued to face an unusually high number of disruptions since the start of the pandemic. In 2019, 146 investigations were opened for indiscipline on planes. As of Nov. 1, there had been 767 such investigations in 2022, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.
In September, a California man was charged with interfering with flight crew members after he was caught on camera punching an American Airlines flight attendant on a flight from Mexico to Los Angeles, said the Ministry of Justice. In May, a woman who repeatedly punched a Southwest Airlines flight attendant last year, causing her face to bleed and chipping three of her teeth, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, prosecutors said.
On Thursday, it was not immediately clear how Mr Fackrell was able to get the razor onto the plane. The Transportation Security Administration, which has authority over passenger security and screening at US airports, said in a statement it was working with federal prosecutors, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Salt Lake City police on the case. by Mr. Fackrell.
The agency is “introducing new X-ray technology to more airports to improve our ability to better detect objects such as the one used in this incident,” the statement said. “We commend the actions of the flight attendants and other passengers on this flight.”