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Crewed Talk

Was Too Much Force Used to Take Down the Disturbed Delta Passenger?

Was Too Much Force Used to Take Down the Disturbed Delta Passenger?
Amanda Pleva

Most of you by now have heard about the Delta flight last week that turned into a scene from the movie Roadhouse. 23 year-old Joseph Hudek was traveling as the dependent of a Delta employee in first class from Seattle to Beijing when he suddenly tried to open one of the doors about an hour into the flight, managing to raise the opening lever about halfway. When flight attendants and passengers attempted to subdue Hudek, he punched them repeatedly and hit them with a bottle – which the criminal complaint helpfully illustrates was a “red dessert wine bottle” (heaven forbid it was merlot). Hudek was on a mission, however, and kept attempting to open the door as the fight raged on, even after being hit with not one but two wine bottles by a flight attendant – one of them a liter bottle, which did not faze the man in the slightest. “Do you know who I am?” he yelled. Well, that’s not an issue now.

Eventually Hudek was restrained after a long struggle and arrested upon return to Seattle. But the situation raised some questions about the amount of force used against him relative to his actions. Let’s start with the first one: Were the passengers on the flight in danger for their lives because Hudek had attempted to open the door?

The short and easy answer is no. While I’m pretty astonished that the handle came up halfway, the fact of the matter is that the cabin is pressurized to be around 8 lbs. per square inch at the altitude they would have reached in that phase of flight. Aircraft doors open inward, so fighting that kind of pressure would require beyond superhuman strength. None of us would want to leave to chance that a seal might be compromised and cause a slow decompression, but that, too, is nearly impossible.

So, then, were the flight attendants wrong in using such force against a man who was trying to do something that he was physically unable to achieve? Should they have just let him play with the door handle until he got bored of it and then had him arrested upon return to Seattle? I don’t think so in the slightest. To begin with, the act of trying to open the door in itself is a threat. It signals that the person means to do harm to themselves, those onboard and to the aircraft. So in that, of course the crew did as they should to try and restrain him.

However, Hudek fought, and fought hard. He was the first to bring a wine bottle into the fracas, which absolutely could be construed as being a lethal weapon. And for him to stave off multiple people for so long showed that more force was required than for your average person. While the wine bottle was probably not the best weapon of choice (once it broke, it then became then a very sharp set of knives), I can’t blame the crew and assisting passengers at all for using what was at hand in an emergency.

Looking at the photos of the aftermath and reading the account of what happened, it’s a surprise that no one, especially Hudek, was killed. We review scenarios of onboard attackers in our recurrent training every year, but none of us expects to see it in the course of our careers. It sounds like, by recruiting assistance in the cabin and doing everything possible to restrain him and prevent him from hurting more people, that the crew followed procedure as they should have. I wish all involved a speedy recovery, both physically and mentally, and would like to believe that I would have fought just as hard as they did to protect all on board.

View Comments (8)

8 Comments

  1. TonyBurr

    July 11, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    They did what they had to do. Don’t even think of second guessing their actions. If they had not and something more serious had occurred people would have blamed them for not doing enough. He was the cause and they dealt with it.

  2. Ryno1234

    July 11, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    If I felt in danger of my life during a flight and was a witness to this, I would not have stopped until he was not able to speak, move or function. At that point its him or me. I vote for me. He may beat me to death; but at that moment my thought would be “well, hes trying to kill me anyway so what do i have to lose”. I would deal with whatever legal repercussions that resulted on the ground. However, the key words there are “on the ground”. Safe and sound. Anyone who makes moves like this, mentally stable or not, should expect to suffer the consequences. Sorry but its just a fact. The rules changed after 9/11.

  3. J S

    July 11, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Force seemed totally justified to me. Unless they gratuitously beat him with a wine bottle after he was already on the ground and restrained–and no one as claimed that–I am totally comfortable using whatever force is necessary to stop a man who is actively and aggressively trying to destroy the plane and kill the people on board. The fact that there may be a second mechanism to stop him is of little consequence. I like having multiple safety mechanisms standing between me a a horrific death. If one of those safety mechanisms is “use force on the guy trying to kill me,” then so be it.

  4. airboss

    July 12, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Not sure how qualified this author knows about aircraft…but the doors open out, not in….it is well within the possibility to open in flight by a determined individual. Lethal force could have been used by anyone, any passenger, and be justified because they feared for their life…..they are not familiar with the mechanics of any aircraft, but they do know they are 7 miles up and it is a long way down. I would not have hesitated to use lethal force against the response this man initiated.

  5. rqd

    July 12, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    I don’t think a person in that state “gets bored with it”. They would move on to the next thing which could be strangling a flight attendant with their own apron or using anything at hand as a weapon

    Thankfully, pilots and FOs are trained to stay locked in the flight deck rather than open the door to deal with these situations.

    Stopping the threat by any means necessary is paramount which means the assailant is lucky to be alive.

  6. James603

    July 18, 2017 at 7:45 am

    @Airboss You’re correct that the doors do end up on the outside however not before first being swung inside, turned sideways, and then getting pushed outside.

  7. TiberiusOnTime

    July 31, 2017 at 10:32 am

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the 1 or the few. A passenger that even attempts to put everyone else in danger (scientifically impossible or not) needs to be dealt with. The fact the passenger went nuts when asked to comply, fully justified and then some the way he was subdued. This article clearly should have been about congratulating the courage of the flight crew, NOT questioning their motives.

  8. Always Flyin

    August 7, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    @airboss: You are wrong. Commercial aircraft door are plug style. When the aircraft is pressurized, they are effectively being pushed against the frame and can’t be opened manually.

    I suspect your confusion is because you see the doors open outward. What you may have missed is that they first move inward and then rotate outward.

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