A Utah man has been charged with carrying a gun on a plane and assaulting him with a deadly weapon after holding a razor near the neck of a passenger who was 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 picks up again after a sharp 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 Monday when he put his hand in front of the video screen of the woman seated next to him and told her to pause her film, prosecutors said.
The woman took off her headphones and found Mr Fackrell holding what appeared to be a knife — it was later identified as a wooden-handled razor with a blade one to two inches long — inches from her throat, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney for Utah.
Mr. Fackrell, who was sitting in the window seat, then got up and began yelling, “She’ll be fine” and “No one needs to worry,” according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Utah became. He also urged the woman’s husband, who was sitting in the aisle seat, to “get out of there,” underscoring the request with a punchy, accusatory document status.
The woman’s husband went to the front of the plane to find a flight attendant and the woman “rushed” into the aisle to escape while Mr. Fackrell tried unsuccessfully to stop her by grabbing her shoulder, they said Complaint.
A passenger who witnessed the encounter was able to persuade Mr. Fackrell to put the razor on the seat next to him, according to the indictment. The passenger then snatched the razor before sitting next to Mr Fackrell for the remainder 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.
An attorney listed for Mr. Fackrell, L. Clark Donaldson, did not immediately respond to phone and email messages Thursday.
The charges against Mr Fackrell came as flight crews continued to face an unusually high number of disruptions since the pandemic began. In 2019, 146 investigations into aircraft unrest were initiated. As of November 1, there have been 767 such investigations in 2022, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
In September, a California man was charged with obstructing flight crew members after he was caught on video punching an American Airlines flight attendant on a flight from Mexico to Los Angeles, the Justice Department said. In May, a woman who over the past year repeatedly punched a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, causing her face to bleed and breaking three teeth, was sentenced to 15 months in prison, prosecutors said.
It wasn’t immediately clear on Thursday how Mr. Fackrell managed to get the razor onto the plane. The Transportation Security Administration, which oversees security and passenger screening at US airports, said in a statement that it is working with federal prosecutors, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Salt Lake City Police Department on Mr. Fackrell’s case.
The agency “is rolling out new X-ray technology at more airports to improve our ability to better detect items like the one used in this incident,” the statement said. “We commend the actions of flight attendants and other passengers on this flight.”