Stepping up and Keeping the Skies Safe

  • Published
  • By Wendy Day
  • 701st Combat Operations Squadron

Air Force reservist, Maj. Carlos Rojas, assigned to the 701st Combat Operations Squadron at March Air Reserve Base, California assisted an active-duty lieutenant colonel Army officer, who said he wishes to remain anonymous to help flight attendants aboard American Airlines Flight 1775 on Sunday as they restrained a passenger who had tried to break into the plane's cockpit and then opens an emergency exit midair.

The plane was en-route from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. During the flight, a passenger, identified after the flight by Federal prosecutors, as Juan Remberto Rivas, 50 began to be disruptive during the flight. The anonymous Army officer stepped up to help the flight attendants pacify the disorderly passenger as the situation was escalating. It was apparent they needed backup and the Army officer came back and grabbed me to ask me for my help said Rojas.

"I had been dozing off and on, but then the lights turned back on and I noticed a struggle. That's when the Army officer grabbed me. I went up to the front and helped him restrain the passenger, with three other flight attendants and two other passengers. It took three of us to restrain the passenger, who was trying to open the door," Rojas said. "The flight attendants had done a good job of getting him away from the door, but he was still close to it and the handle was still open. As we were restraining the gentleman, one of the flight attendants was able to squeeze by me and shut the door handle."

Once the passenger, Rivas, was fully restrained with zip-tie handcuffs and duct-taped ankles, provided by the flight attendants, a few other passengers, and the Army officer, did a good job of talking to him and keeping him calm until the plane was able to make its emergency landing. The plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Kansas City, Missouri.

After the plane landed, the man was taken off the aircraft by police. ​​ Rivas, has been charged with "assaulting and intimidating a flight attendant and thereby interfering in the performance of the flight attendant's duties," a Justice Department news release says. Rivas is currently in custody and his detention hearing has not yet been scheduled.

American Airlines has issued a statement expressing its appreciation to "the customers who stepped in to assist our crew."

Rojas said he was able to use some prior Air Force Training he learned in a hand-to-hand combat course. "It took three people, assisting the flight attendants to restrain the gentlemen."

Every day our military is stepping up, sometimes even in the skies, to help make our communities a safer place, both on and off duty. Rojas said, "I joined the military to be a part of something bigger, a part of the greater good. I am just glad I was able to help."