I was in 3C on Flight 735 and saw everything that happend....and it was A LOT scarier to all of us in first than the news is reporting.
Situation started after meal was served and "Chronicles of Narnia had been on for about an hour (never will watch that movie without thinking about this flight). An hispanic man walked up to first, kind of shuffling with a hanging head and a slack expression. I looked up when he walked by, thought he looked weird but not weird enough to worry about. I went back to the movie and the next thing I know I hear our flight attendant yelling, "No sir, Stop that Sir!" and then "get away from there"! The passenger in 2D stated he could see that the guy had indeed been able to move the handle on the main exit door all the way over and that he could see the inner door lifting and moving a bit. The flight attendant rushed forward to push back on the door trying to close it. It was at that moment that some pretty cool guys in 1B, 1C stood up grabbed the guy and had him in want I think was considered a choke hold. 1D, another big guy (all 3 men who helped to subdue the man were a good size fortunately) was also helping to hold the guy down.
The guy seemed to faint and slumped to the ground...but only for a moment. He then started trying to get up and apparently he was quite strong because although there were two men holding him down, it appeared that he was going to be able to get up and wanted to move back toward the door to open it. He was screaming, "I want to die, "I have a camera in my stomach", "Kill Me "and also "We have to save the Country!" Several other men in first and the first couple of rows in Economy started standing up saying "do you think they need more help?".........It appeared to me that the two guys holding him were starting to lose the battle and I yelled basically yes, they could use some more muscle. (I am female and was terrified but would have been up there helping too if needed!) About 3 more guys stood up and jumped to the front.
He had a brother or companion that came up front and I guess was trying to help but there seemed to me to be a language barrier between the guys holding him, the two flight attendants and the "brother". In addition, we all had no idea what was really happening and there was a fear in all of us that the "brother" might be in on what was happening. The guy claiming to be the brother started yelling to stop it to the guy that was pinned but to no avail. In addition to all of this fun the pinned man starting making the most horrible wretching sounds as if he was vomiting. Loud sounds and several expressed concern about keeping him off of his back so he wouldn't choke. He apparently did not vomit but it all added to the weirdness. About then several started demanding that the brother go back to his seat...again, we did not know if it was some kind of crazy plot involving more people or what. Eventually, he aqreeed and returned to his seat which lessened to tension a bit. I remember one guy saying "we can keep this up for two more hours" which was true as the pinned man was continuing to struggle.
In the first bin over 1 A/C handcuffs were found and from somewhere duct tape was brought out. The passengers holding the man wrapped duct tape around the mans knees and ankles and then managed to handcuff him.
Channel 9 WAS on and the guy in 3D and myself listened to the conversations of the pilot and the Denver airport. It was believed that there might be a bomb threat since the guy was raving about needing his camera and the "camera in his stomach" comments" and permission was given to land in Denver under an emergency situation. Apparently two fighters were deployed out of Buckley AFB and were conversing with the pilot in order to figure out exactly what was going on. I suppose it could be said that if the piliot was not communicating sufficiently with the jets, that some sort of action would have been taken. Fortunatly, all was well in the cockpit and the pilots were excellent. They were given permission to return to DIA at a speed and route that was at their descretion. The Pilot came on and announced to the pax and crew that we had declared an emergency situation and that we were about 140 miles out of Denver and that Denver was preparing for our landing. The pilots did well in juggling talking to Denver ground, the jets and keeping the passengers pretty well informed on what would be happening to us.
Meanwhile, back in first, a gentleman walked up from the back and spoke a few words to the flight attendant. Some believed he was an air marshall which I don't quite believe or he would have been up to the front sooner. Others have stated that he was a Secret Service agent and still others believe he was an FBI agent going to Sacramento for a law enforcement seminar. I believe he may have been traveling with another law enforcement person. He took charge of the situation bringing his bag up to the front and taking out his own handcuffs. They took the duct tape off of the guy and stood him up and walked him back to 4C in economy, directly behind me. By now, he was very quiet which helped a lot to calm everyones nerves.
There was a lot of excitement yet to come as the pilots felt they needed to get the plane on the ground as quickly as possible were flying VERY fast towards DIA. Making lots of hard turns. As we got closer to Denver and were getting ready to land, DIA ground asked the pilot if he was going to be able to land at the angle he was coming in at and the pilot replyed that he thought yes but if he missed he would just come back around. Well, we experienced the most amazing approach and landing that any of us will ever experience in a lifetime. The vision I have is that of the Reno Air Races where you see planes flying at extreme angles and very close to the ground. Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration but I would have to say only slight. I would give anything to be able to see our approach and landing on film. Several of the first passengers were very frequent fliers and were stunned at what we experienced. On final approach we banked very hard left and dropped in elevation dramatically. The ground, as we were banking, was so incredibly close! I apologize if I sound like a ninny but it was very exciting and scary. The landing was awesome. I feel that our pilot was extremely skilled and flew very well under extreme duress. Still listening to Channel 9 the pilot was unsure if we would have to emergency evacuate but it was determined to not be necessary.
When we landed, the "unruly" passenger was moved to the front door and the police came on and removed him very quietly. We had landed way out, very far away from the terminal. Those of us in first that were witnesses and some of the people that were near where the passenger sat were asked to give written statements. We were placed on a bus along with our carry-ons and taken eventually back to DIA.
United did an excellent, excellent job of organizing the entire process. All the passengers were brought into a large room in the B terminal that was filled with comfortable chairs. They brought refreshments for us and asked us to relax. When all of the passengers finally arrived to the room United may announcements that a plane was being prepared for us and that we would be leaving again in 2 hours. We were all thinking that we would be at DIA for hours and would undoubtely be staying overnight. United offered to fly those that did not want to fly that night to fly them the next day on Saturday.
They actually started loading us on the plane a little earlier than expected which was nice. It turned out to be the very same plane which was a bit interesting but fine as it meant that we would be leaving sooner because of it. We had a new crew and the return flight was quite pleasant.
I apologize that this post is so long and undoubtely a bit rambling but I wanted to provide as much detailed information as possible. All in all, I am very pleased with how well United performed in this very unusual and scary situation.