No charges in incident that diverted plane to Salt Lake

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SALT LAKE CITY -- No charges will be filed against the man accused of being an "unruly passenger" on board an American Airlines flight from Portland to Dallas. The man's actions caused the pilot to make an emergency landing in Salt Lake City.

Flight 1476 landed at Salt Lake International around 1:15 Thursday afternoon. The FBI released the man from custody and the plane continued on to Dallas shortly before 5 p.m.

Authorities say the disruption was isolated to the one flight and operations at Salt Lake International Airport were never delayed.

But passengers on the flight were inconvenienced. One of them, John Heller, finally boarded another flight to Dallas Thursday afternoon.

Heller took video on board the original flight with his cell phone camera. It shows U.S. Marshals and airport police escorting a man in handcuffs off the plane. He says the man appeared to be of Middle Eastern decent.

Airport officials would not say what exactly the unruly passenger did to cause the disruption, but Heller was fully aware that something was wrong -- especially when the plane's captain spoke on the intercom.

"Folks, we need you to all sit down. We're making an emergency landing. There's a passenger in the back of the plane who is making some other passengers very uncomfortable. We need to make an emergency landing. Please everybody stay where you are," Heller says the captain said.

Heller says the unruly passenger got up to use the restroom before the flight attendants gave the OK in Portland. He ignored the crews' request to sit down. Heller says that between Portland and Salt Lake, the passenger used the bathroom three to four more times.

Other passengers around him told the flight attendants that they were uncomfortable. That message made it to the pilot, who decided to land the plane in Salt Lake.

But were passengers nervous because the unruly passenger looked Middle Eastern? KSL News spoke to Salt Lake City-based civil rights attorney Brian Barnard, who said these types of cases happen all the time.

"Human beings are human beings," Barnard said. "We all have our own biases and prejudices, and I think people have to work consciously to overcome their own biases and their own prejudices."

He said there can be a fine line between being vigilant and being prejudice.

"To assume that a person of a certain race is more dangerous than a person of another race, that's not a good idea," Barnard said.

Once the passenger was escorted off, the others exited the plane with cell phones only. A few of them were questioned by FBI agents and then released to board another flight to Dallas.

The FBI and airport police searched and cleared the plane. Airport officials say the pilot did the right thing.

The unruly passenger's name is not being released because he hasn't been charged with anything. He was put on the next flight to his destination.


Story written with contributions from Alex Cabrero, Nicole Gonzales, Paul Nelson and Marc Giauque.

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