A California man has been charged in the assault of a flight attendant onboard an American Airlines flight that forced its diversion on October 27.
Federal prosecutors announced on Monday they charged Brian Hsu, 20, of Irvine, California, with assault and interference with a flight crew for the alleged altercation onboard a flight from New York to Santa Ana, California.
They say the assault – which was investigated by the FBI and Denver Police Department – forced the pilot of the Airbus to make an unscheduled landing in Denver shortly after 6.30pm.
Authorities did not release any details of the case in their announcement on Monday, and his case was listed as sealed.
But witnesses on the flight last week say he punched a flight attendant twice in the face and broke her nose after she bumped into him on the flight.
The victim reportedly apologized to Hsu after knocking into him, but he followed her down the aisle and struck moments later, refuting earlier claims that the fight had erupted over a face mask.
Hsu was later seen duct-taped on a seat after the plane made the unscheduled stop, as his alleged victim was being treated at a local hospital for broken bones in her face.
American Airlines officials have since banned Hsu, and said they will demand the strictest punishment for the suspect.
He is expected to appear in the District Court for the Central District of California Monday.
Police met the plane at the gate and immediately apprehended Hsu, who was snapped sitting in Denver International Airport in handcuffs by fellow passenger Mackenzie Rose
Following the altercation, the head of American Airlines, Doug Parker, called it ‘one of the worst displays of unruly behavior we’ve ever witnessed,’ in an Instagram post and video posted on Thursday.
‘Last night, American Airlines had one of the worst displays we’ve seen, when a passenger violently assaulted one of our flight attendants. Thankfully, our flight attendant is recovering and we are making sure she and her fellow crew members have the support they need.
‘The passenger, however, will never be allowed to fly American again and we are doing everything we can to ensure they are prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. But at the end of the day, while these interactions are not the norm, even one is too many, and they must stop.’
The flight attendant was reportedly attacked after she bumped into the passenger while walking through the first-class cabin, according to the Washington Post.
She apologized, only for Hsu to get up and assault her in the plane’s gallery.
He is then said to have returned to his seat as if nothing had happened. Video shared online showed passengers booing as cops boarded the jet when it landed at Denver Airport.
Mackenzie Rose, a passenger on the flight, said she saw the flight attendant walk by after the incident ‘with blood on her mask’, and speculated that the attacker might have been drunk or high.
Meanwhile, a photo posted on Twitter appeared to show crew members and passengers duct-taping the man to his seat.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, pictured, condemned the attack on the flight attendant
The flight took off from JFK Airport just before 5 pm ET and landed in Colorado at 6:43 pm Denver time according to flight tracking website Flightview.
Police met the plane at the gate and immediately apprehended the individual, who was snapped sitting in the airport in handcuffs by Rose.
Denver Airport Police confirmed the subject was taken into custody and said the FBI is investigating the incident.
Paul Hartshorn Jr. of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants confirmed that the flight attendant has since been released from a Denver hospital and is on her way back home, according to KTLA.
‘After a flight attendant who was working in a different cabin bumped this passenger, we’re told, she then walked into one of the flight galleys and this passenger approached her and punched her in the face at least twice. That’s what we know right now and she sustained broken bones in her nose and her face,’ Hartshorn said.
An image snapped by a passenger and circulated on Twitter appeared to show crew members and other passengers on American Airlines flight 976 rallying to secure the man to an airplane seat using duct tape following the assault
The assault was initially believed to have occurred after the male passenger was asked to put on a mask by a flight attendant, but the exact cause of the attack was clarified by airline officials Thursday.
The female flight attendant had inadvertently bumped into the male passenger before apologizing, causing the man to swing a pair of punches at her, according to witnesses, hitting her in the face.
‘I understand that he actually punched her twice. I saw her walk back down the aisle afterwards and she had blood splattered on the outside of her mask.
‘In terms of men hitting women, it’s absolutely absurd and ridiculous.’
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Rose went on to say that she had ‘an impression that there might be a substance or alcohol involved’ in the incident.
An image snapped by a passenger and circulated on Twitter appeared to show crew members and other passengers rallying to secure the man to an airplane seat using duct tape following the assault.
The flight eventually left Denver for Orange County about 9:30 pm Denver time following the incident, according to American Airlines.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced earlier this year that it would begin to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for unruly passengers after a rise in reports of aggressive behavior on flights.
The agency said in August it had issued more than $1 million in fines to unruly passengers in 2021, and revealed there have already been 4,941 unruly passenger reports this year alone.
Assaulting a flight attendant is a felony and could land an offender years in prison.
American Airlines flight 976 diverted from its original destination of John Wayne Airport to Denver International after a male passenger, thought to be traveling in first class, allegedly punched a female flight attendant twice in the face in a dispute over masks according to witnesses (flight 976 pictured at Denver International airport)
Mackenzie Rose (pictured), a passenger aboard American Airlines flight 976, said: ‘I understand that he actually punched her twice. I saw her walk back down the aisle afterwards and she had blood splattered on the outside of her mask.’
The airline confirmed it intends to prosecute the individual, who it says was apprehended by law enforcement at the gate following the safe landing at Denver International Airport.
‘We are outraged by the reports of what took place on board. Acts of violence against our team members are not tolerated by American Airlines,’ it said in a statement.
‘We have engaged local law enforcement and the FBI and we are working with them to ensure they have all the information they need. The individual involved in this incident will never be allowed to travel with American Airlines in the future, but we will not be satisfied until he has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law.’
The flight attendant who suffered the assault was transported to a local hospital following the landing according to the airline, which said it could not comment any further on her condition for privacy reasons.
‘We thank our crew for their quick action and professionalism to ensure the safety of their fellow team members and customers on board,’ the airline said.
‘Our thoughts are with our injured flight attendant and ensuring that she and her fellow crew members have the support they need at this time.’
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American Airlines released a statement following the plane’s arrival at Denver International (pictured), expressing their ‘outrage’ at the incident and promising to ban the individual, who has not yet been named, from all future American Airlines services.