An agitated woman tried to open an emergency exit during a Southwest Airlines flight Sunday afternoon, causing the plane to make an unscheduled landing in southeastern Texas.
“She actually took off part of the door, the little plastic frame around the window,” witness Henrietta Mokwuah, 31, told the Daily News on Monday.
“It’s hard for me to believe she wasn’t trying to reach the door. She reached across the exit row for it. It was intense. I was sitting right there. If it had opened, it would have taken us out. It would have cost a lot of people their lives,” she said.
The scary incident unfolded on flight 4519 from Los Angeles to Houston.
In a statement, the airline said its pilot decided to land at Corpus Christi International Airport because the crew became concerned about a “potential threat” in the cabin.
Mokwuah said the woman lunged for the emergency door more than two hours into the flight.
Before that, the woman was walking backward in the aisle and harassing other passengers, she said.
“She didn’t seem of sound mind the entire time,” Mokwuah said. “I’m not sure how she got on the plane.”
Passenger Kristy Gillentine posted video on Twitter showing the woman being escorted backward off the plane by police.
Terrance Franklin said the woman had been acting erratically at Los Angeles International Airport before everyone boarded.
“Prior to the flight, she had a couple of outbursts saying she was being treated wrong. Some things with the government — personal and political,” Franklin told KTRK-TV.
“Once we got in the air, that’s when it all started again. She was walking back and forth. I knew something wasn’t right,” he said.
It was an off-duty police officer who finally helped subdue the unruly woman.
The cop was identified as Pamela Minchew, a member of the Cleveland ISD police department north of Houston.
“She had observed the irrational passenger attempting to open the exit door in midflight. Fearing for her safety and the safety of everyone on the plane, she took action and was able to restrain the passenger,” Cleveland ISD Police Chief Rex Evans told the Houston Chronicle.
“She had no choice but to identify herself as a law enforcement officer and take immediate action,” he said.
“The rest of the passengers cheered when the off-duty officer came back on board,” after the woman was removed, Gillentine told the newspaper. “If she hadn’t acted so quickly, things could have gone very differently.”
The incident was being investigated by the FBI since it happened in the air.
Authorities did not immediately identify the woman removed from the flight.