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Student pilot tried to open Alaska Airlines plane cockpit multiple times mid-flight, complaint says

by Staff

A student pilot tried to open the door of an Alaska Airlines cockpit multiple times while the plane was in the air, according to court documents. 

The flight was traveling from California to Virginia on March 3, according to an affidavit filed by federal air marshal Thomas G. Pattinson and reviewed by CBS News. 

Pattinson said that the passenger, identified as Nathan Jones, was seated in the plane’s seat 6E but left his seat multiple times. Jones made three separate attempts to go to the front of the plane and open the cockpit door, Pattinson said. 

Flight attendants eventually requested help from off-duty law enforcement officers, who “restrained Jones in flex cuffs and sat on either side of him for the remainder of the flight,” according to the affidavit. To prevent further disturbances, the flight deck was “locked down for the remainder of the flight,” and the flight attendants used a beverage cart as a barrier to block entrance to the cockpit. 

Jones told the flight attendants that he was “testing them,” according to the affidavit. When the aircraft landed at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, Jones allowed law enforcement to search his luggage, where agents found “multiple notebooks with writings describing how to operate an aircraft, including take-off, in-air, and landing techniques,” according to the affidavit. His wallet also contained a student pilot’s license, the affidavit said. 

The Federal Aviation Administration told CBS News in a statement that the flight landed safely at around 3:30 local time after a the crew “reported a passenger disturbance.” The incident is under investigation, the FAA said. 

Jones was arrested and charged with interference with flight crew members. The maximum penalty for the charge is 20 years in prison. 

“The charges against Mr. Jones are shocking to his mother and family,” said Jones’ lawyer, Robert J. Jenkins of Virginia’s Bynum & Jenkins PLLC, in a statement provided to CBS News. “The allegations are completely inconsistent with the life he has lived. He is a young man without any history of criminal conduct or violence. At this stage we are acutely concerned with his mental health and are working to address his needs. We have confidence that at the end it will be clear that Mr. Jones never intended to harm or threaten anyone.”

Jones will next appear for a detention hearing scheduled for March 18, according to court documents reviewed by CBS News. He will remain in custody until then. 

The FAA said on its website that 320 unruly passenger incidents have been reported in 2024. This includes 145 reports in January and another 175 reports made in February. 

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