American Airlines traveler was restrained with duct tape after trying to open emergency exit door mid-flight: passengers

  • An American Airlines passenger tried to open an emergency exit door mid-air, witnesses said.

  • The man was restrained by other fliers and duct taped, according to travelers.

  • American Airlines said the flight returned to Albuquerque, NM, over a "disruptive customer."

An American Airlines flight descended into chaos on Tuesday when a traveler tried to open an emergency exit door mid-air, forcing other passengers to restrain him before he was duct-taped and zip-tied, witnesses said.

Chicago-bound American Airlines Flight 1219 returned to Albuquerque, New Mexico, shortly after takeoff "due to a disturbance in the cabin involving a disruptive customer," an airline spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement on Wednesday.

The Boeing 737 landed safely at Albuquerque International Sunport at around 2:40 pm local time, where the aircraft was met by local law enforcement, the American Airlines spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the airport told BI a man on board the plane was taken into custody by authorities after it landed. The flight again left for Chicago roughly an hour later.

Passenger Zach Etkind told CNN the wild incident unfolded about 20 minutes after the plane took off on Tuesday.

"I heard people yelling in the back," Etkind told CNN. "I thought guys were fighting, but it was a man trying to open the door."

Etkind, a Barstool Sports host known as "The Wonton Don," posted on the social media site X that he was one of a group of people to "wrestle" the man who tried to "aggressively open the airplane door."

"Me and 5 other dudes had to wrestle him into the aisle, duct tape his legs, and throw flexi-cuffs on him. Just safely landed back in ABQ but HOLY SHIT," he posted on X, the site previously known as Twitter.

The media personality told Fox News Digital that there about "four or five guys who were trying to rip off this guy who was clinging to and pulling at the [emergency door] handle."

"Once we got him off of the door, we moved him to the aisle, and we all held down his legs and arms," he said.

Another passenger, Emma Ritz, told KOAT-TV that a man who was sitting in an emergency exit row "cracked open the window that was protecting the handle."

"He ripped down the handle where it exposed some of the emergency exit and all the wind came rushing down," Ritz told the news outlet. "The guy was screaming 'I want to get out' when he was restrained."

Daniel Lewis, another passenger, added in an interview with KOAT-TV, "People close to the window felt the pressure so the sound was what really alerted everyone."

Blaze Ward, one of the fliers who helped subdue the man, told KOAT-TV that the man "was resisting, but there were no punches, at least not to me."

"He didn't bite, he didn't kick, he didn't elbow but he was definitely continuing to try [to open the door] until we forced him off the lever," Ward said.

Another person who posted on X that she was a passenger on board the plane called it "one of the scariest days of my life."

"Flying back home from ABQ and we've been in the air for about 30 minutes and a huge gush of wind comes out of no where," the post read. "This guy opened the emergency exit door. People were tackling him down and put him in zip ties. Had to emergency land back."

The Federal Aviation Administration said it is investigating the ordeal.

A spokesperson for the United States Attorney's Office for the District of New Mexico told BI on Wednesday charges had not been filed in connection with the incident.

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