A group of police officers flying home to Utah from the funeral of slain New York Police Det. Wenjian Liu were unexpectedly called into service in midair.
A JetBlue flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Salt Lake City was diverted to Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Sunday after a passenger apparently became suicidal and combative after a fight with her husband, CNN affiliate KSL reported.
Before the incident, Flight 71’s flight attendants had noted the unusually high number of police officers on the flight.
Flight attendants separated the fighting couple and brought the wife to the front of the cabin to sit next to Salt Lake Unified Police Department Det. Robert Odor. The detective had an open seat next to him and agreed to sit with her.
When Odor noticed her taking pills and writing a note, he grabbed the pill bottle out of her hand, he told KSL.
“She was yelling, she was kicking at us,” Odor said.
As officers held her down, Salt Lake Unified Police Sgt. Terry Wall tried to calm the woman. A crisis-intervention specialist who is often asked to negotiate with distraught people, Wall said he “tried to let her know that we’re there to help her, let her know that she matters, even though she’s saying that ‘I don’t want you to help me, I want to die.’”
The police officers said they held the woman down for more than an hour as the flight diverted to Chicago. They said that handcuffing her could have made the situation worse.
By the end of the flight, the woman reportedly told the police she wanted to take her life in a different direction.
JetBlue would only say that the flight diverted to Chicago “after a medical/security issue was reported in the cabin,” according to a statement. “The aircraft landed safely, without incident, and was met by first responders. A customer was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.”
“I can only speculate what would have happened if we hadn’t noticed that and the flight had continued for four more hours,” Odor told KSL.
The flight usually takes about five hours but passengers didn’t complain that the plane landed about four hours late in Salt Lake City.