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Passenger held after trying to open plane’s door

A Delta Air Lines flight from Los Angeles to Florida was diverted to Albuquerque early Friday after a passenger tried to open a cabin door and threatened to blow up the aircraft.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Delta Air Lines flight from Los Angeles to Florida was diverted to Albuquerque early Friday after a passenger sprayed the first-class cabin with a water bottle, tried to open a cabin door and threatened to blow up the aircraft.

Crew members and passengers on Delta flight 2148 to Tampa subdued Stanley Dwayne Sheffield, 46. He was taken into federal custody after the plane landed at 1:30 a.m. Friday.

Tampa Bay Rays broadcaster and former major league manager Kevin Kennedy was among a group of eight men that subdued Sheffield.

"It was the real deal," Kennedy told reporters before Tampa Bay's baseball game Friday night against Toronto. "There wasn't time to think, just react. When somebody says they're going to blow up the plane, there's no fooling around."

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Darrin Jones said authorities do not believe the incident was related to terrorism.

Sheffield, whose hometown in Florida wasn't disclosed by investigators, was charged with interference with flight crew members and destruction of aircraft.

Sheffield made an initial appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Richard Puglisi, who scheduled preliminary and detention hearings for Monday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chuck Barth said Sheffield remained jailed in Albuquerque.

According to a criminal complaint, the incident began 90 minutes after takeoff when a flight attendant noticed Sheffield, seated in first class, was awake and asked if he needed anything.

Sheffield did not respond.

The flight attendant asked again 15 minutes later, again with no response.

Sheffield then went to a lavatory and, while returning, grabbed a 2-liter water bottle from a drink cart and sprayed other passengers.

"Get behind me, Satan," Sheffield told the flight attendant.

When flight attendants asked Sheffield to return to his seat, he refused, then tried to open the aircraft's main door while making threats about blowing up the airplane.

"I am going to bring this plane down," Sheffield said. The complaint said he also shouted: "You need to land this plane or I'm going to blow it up" and, "I will blow up this plane and take you all with me." He then approached the cockpit door, again shouting, "Get behind me, Satan."

Several passengers struggled with Sheffield and tied him up with seat belt extenders and nylon hand restraints. A passenger told investigators Sheffield broke one of the restraints and a leather belt before he was subdued.

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The pilot decided to land in Albuquerque, where Sheffield was taken into custody. The flight to Tampa, Fla., resumed at 4 a.m.

Susan Elliott, a spokeswoman at Delta's headquarters in Atlanta, said the aircraft, an Airbus A320, and its 100 passengers and seven crew members never were in jeopardy.

"It is impossible to open a cabin door during flight because of the pressurization of the aircraft," she said.

In an interview on Sirius satellite radio, Kennedy said he woke up after a flight attendant raised her voice. He saw a man throwing water and crossing himself. When the man moved to the door and made threats about blowing up the plane, Kennedy said he and seven others tackled him.

"As soon as he started to go for the door, we charged. We took him down. We tied him up," Kennedy said.

Associated Press freelance writer Mark Didtler in St. Petersburg, Fla., contributed to this report.