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Student Pilot Charged After Trying to Access Alaska Airlines Cockpit

by Staff

A 19-year-old student pilot from Northern Virginia who tried repeatedly to enter the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines flight from California to Virginia earlier this month has been charged with interfering with a flight crew, according to court documents.

The man, Nathan Jones, was traveling on Alaska Airlines Flight 322 from San Diego International Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport on March 3 when he “interfered and intimidated flight crew members and attendants,” according to an affidavit filed the next day in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

His lawyer filed a motion this week arguing that Mr. Jones might not be mentally fit to stand trial.

The affidavit said that Mr. Jones, a passenger in seat 6E, tried three times to go to the front of the plane and “open the aircraft’s cockpit door.” Flight attendants asked for assistance from off-duty law enforcement officers, who restrained Mr. Jones in flex cuffs and sat on either side of him for the rest of the flight.

Flight attendants used a beverage cart to block the cockpit, the affidavit said. When they asked Mr. Jones why he tried to access the cockpit, he said he “was testing them.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said in an emailed statement on Thursday that the crew had reported a “passenger disturbance” aboard the Boeing 737 and that it was investigating. The flight landed safely at about 3:30 p.m. local time in Dulles, it said.

Agents searched Mr. Jones’s belongings after the landing and found notebooks with descriptions of how to operate an aircraft, including take off, in-air and landing techniques, and a wallet containing his student pilot’s license, the affidavit said.

His lawyer, Robert Lee Jenkins Jr., filed a motion on Wednesday requesting a mental competency hearing for Mr. Jones, who is being held at a detention center in Alexandria, Va. Mr. Jenkins said that Mr. Jones made statements to him that raised “serious concerns as to whether he understands the charges and reason for his detention.”

The motion included a letter from a therapist for the city of Alexandria who described Mr. Jones as having symptoms “indicative of a serious mental illness” and being on “suicide protocols.” It said he was being restrained several times a day and needed hospital care to stabilize his mental status.

“It appears to be an acute mental health episode,” Mr. Jenkins said in an interview. “I have sought an order from the court to have him evaluated for competency to stand trial and also for possible insanity at the time of the offense.”

Mr. Jenkins said that Mr. Jones had traveled to Alaska to visit his father and was returning to Virginia via a connection in San Diego.

His next hearing is set for March 18. Mr. Jenkins said it would address bond conditions and his request for an evaluation.

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