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    Unruly woman disrupts flight to Indianapolis

    A screaming woman tries to open an escape hatch and is subdued on an ATA flight from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

    By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 19, 2002


    At first, Christina Heald thought the woman sitting behind her on the American Trans Air flight to Indianapolis was going into labor.

    In a high-pitched voice that resonated through the cabin, the woman began yelling about water flowing from her body. Then she preached about God.

    "She went on like that for about five or 10 minutes and one flight stewardess came and told her to be quiet," Heald said. "A few other flight attendants came, and she put her hands on the escape hatch and she was threatening to open it and everything.

    "I was really scared because I thought she was going to open the hatch," Heald said. "Because she was right there (by the emergency door) and she had her hands on it and she was trying to kick it open."

    Flight attendants struggled to subdue her, Heald said, and asked a large male passenger to help. Using seat belts, they tied the woman to a seat.

    The woman was apparently having a delusional episode after the plane took off Saturday night from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

    After the plane landed at Indianapolis International Airport, police and officials with the Transportation Security Administration handcuffed the woman and took her into custody. She was taken to a hospital.

    It was unclear Sunday how close she came to opening the hatch. The TSA will investigate, said Dennis Rosebrough, public affairs director of the Indianapolis airport. Rosebrough said the woman suffered a "delusional" episode.

    An FAA official in Chicago confirmed that a female passenger was handcuffed after a disturbance, but couldn't provide any additional information. Officials with the TSA and ATA could not be reached Sunday.

    The woman's name was not available.

    Heald, 15, said she thought the woman was in her 30s and traveling with a church group. She said the woman and at least two other passengers wore T-shirts with the words "pray" printed on them.

    Heald, who will be a high school sophomore this year, had visited family in St. Petersburg and was on her way home to Indianapolis. She said the flight was delayed out of St. Petersburg-Clearwater because of bad weather. About 30 minutes after takeoff, as attendants began handing out drinks, the woman started yelling, Heald said.

    The yelling continued after the woman was restrained and after the plane landed. As the woman was led off the plane in handcuffs, she threatened passengers.

    "She said, 'you better watch out, I'm going to step on your toes.' Then she said, 'Better yet, I'm going to dance on your toes.' And then she started dancing. She was just jumping around," Heald said.

    Heald said she was frightened by the episode, and questioned the crew's decision to continue to Indianapolis.

    "I do think they should have stopped somewhere else and taken her off the plane because it was very scary," Heald added."It was a very unenjoyable flight for everyone."

    -- Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or tisch@sptimes.com.

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