NBC News and news services
updated 9/13/2006 5:46:51 PM ET 2006-09-13T21:46:51

Federal authorities have declined to prosecute a man who tried to open a cabin door during a United flight from Los Angeles to Washington Dulles on Tuesday night.

Flight 890 was about two hours from Dulles when the man walked to the rear of the plane and flipped up the handle on the rear cabin door.

Those doors cannot be opened when a plane is in flight, but that didn't stop passengers from jumping onto and restraining the man.

"They roughed him up quite a bit," a federal official told NBC News.

However, after an investigation by the FBI, prosecutors declined to file charges.

Federal agents said the man flipped the handle out of curiosity or boredom, not intending to cause any harm. "It was a stupid move. Something an 8-year-old kid would do," an FBI official said.

Boxer 'strutting his stuff'
The official said the man, who was wearing military fatigues and spoke Portuguese and little English, was apparently a boxer and was described as walking around the cabin during the flight, trying to attract attention by throwing punches into the air. "He was strutting his stuff," the official said.

Even though federal authorities won't prosecute, local prosecutors are considering some charges.

Ken Wolfenbarger, of Whittier, Calif., who was on the flight, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he helped subdue the unruly passenger. The man wore patches on his fatigues with special forces and jujitsu champion logos, Wolfenbarger said.

The man had been acting strangely for about 20 minutes, then sat up, wrapped belts around his hands and threw punches into the air, Wolfenbarger said.

Wolfenbarger said he heard a flight attendant yell for help and tell the man, “Sir, get your hand off the handle.”

“Any time you hear a flight attendant shout ‘please help,’ you worry that something pretty bad is going to happen,” he said.

Passengers punch him
Wolfenbarger said the man was held down and punched by other passengers as he grabbed the man’s leg. Air marshals then came and took custody of the man.

The passenger became unruly about 3½ hours into the flight, said United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy.

“After the passenger was restrained, the pilot decided to land at Dulles,” McCarthy said. “It wasn’t an emergency landing.”

There were 138 passengers and six crew members on board, McCarthy said.

NBC's Pete Williams and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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