FBI: Man tried to open exit door during flight to PDX

FBI: Man tried to open exit door during flight to PDX »Play Video
This photo shows Alexander Herrera in custody after Alaska Airlines flight 132 landed safely in Portland. (Courtesy: Ryan Oelrich)

PORTLAND, Ore. – A man was arrested after he allegedly tried to open an emergency exit door during a flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Portland early Monday morning.

FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said Alexander Michael Herrera, 23, tried to open the door during the plane's descent. Passengers on the Alaska Airlines flight told the FBI that Herrera said some unusual things before he tried to open the door.

Henry Pignataro was sitting four rows back with his 10-year-old son. He put Herrera in a choke hold and brought him to the ground.

Pignataro said Herrera asked him why he was hurting him.

"I said you're hurting my ten-year-old son. He's on the plane," he said.

Ryan Oelrich of Spokane, Wash. was a passenger on the flight. He told KATU that he woke up while the man was trying to open the door.

"I was actually asleep when it happened, and I woke up to a loud hissing sound and then a bunch of folks screaming and I turned around the saw a large gentleman attempting to exit the plane midflight," he said.

Oelrich said the man was pulling hard on the door handle.

"He was a big guy. He was strong and he put up a fight," he said. It took 5 or 6 people to restrain him, Oelrich said.

"I could see him very, very clearly when he was trying to get the door open. He looked very nervous. His hair was in his face. He just was slamming his body against that door like he wanted to get out," he said. "I could hear the folks chatting who were seated around him after the incident, said he had made them nervous from the get go. That he was talking to himself and was asking them bizarre questions."

Members of the flight crew and passengers restrained him for about 15 minutes until the plane landed. He sat quietly in his seat for the rest of the flight. No one was hurt.

The passengers gave the crew and the passengers who helped restrain the man a standing ovation after the plane landed.

"God bless the passengers around him. I saw a lady jump on him and a bunch of guys just got right in there and took him down and held him down," said Oelrich. "That's when I looked back and realized that this person was trying to get the door open, trying to get out."

Police took Herrera into custody after the flight landed at around 5:30 a.m. Herrera faces one count of interfering with a flight crew. He was taken to the Multnomah County Jail.

Investigators believe Herrera is from Arizona, Steele said.

"I'm just so thankful, and what's really encouraging to me was how quickly those passengers responded," said Oelrich.