A Southwest Airlines passenger got caught smoking and then raised such a disturbance that the plane was forced to make an emergency landing, Fox News is reporting.
Southwest Flight 2943 from Portland, Oregon, to Sacramento, California, was en route when a passenger, later identified as Valerie Curbelo, went into the plane’s bathroom and allegedly disabled a smoke detector. When the flight crew ordered her back to her seat, she began getting belligerent, according to witnesses, grabbing an oxygen mask and getting out of control.
“I have a destination for this, I have a destination for myself, and I need to go there.”
She then allegedly pushed a flight attendant.
“I swear, if you… land, I will kill everybody on this [expletive deleted] plane. I will kill everybody on this [expletive deleted] plane!”
The pilot then declared an emergency, allowing the flight to have priority landing and handling when on the ground, while other passengers restrained the woman in her seat for the remaining 30 minutes of the flight. When the aircraft landed in Sacramento, a host of law enforcement officers were there to greet the disruptive passenger. She was booked into the Sacramento County Jail on charges of making criminal threats.
As is not uncommon in cases like this, Curbelo’s alleged outburst was recorded on cell phone video, which you can see below.
KOIN-TV reporter Marc Thompson stopped by the jail to get Curbelo’s side of the story. She allegedly admitted to having tried to smoke on the plane and said she lit up the cigarette because of “anxiety.” When asked why she allegedly created such a disturbance, she claims to have not been in her right mind.
“I don’t know. It was not me. It was not me.”
In a statement provided to KOIN-TV, Southwest Airlines confirmed the incident.
“The safety of our Crew and Passengers is our top priority and we take all threats seriously. The Pilots declared an emergency to receive priority handling from air traffic controllers, and our Crew handled the situation onboard until the plane landed and local authorities stepped in.”
— John Glenn Intl (@columbusairport) December 11, 2017
Interfering with a flight crew, disabling (or attempting to disable) a smoke detector, and making terrorist threats are all federal crimes. According to Cornell University Law School, interfering with a flight crew carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Similarly, according to Free Legal Advice, making criminal threats can, depending on the severity of the threats and circumstances under which they were made, can result in anything from a fine to up to 10 years in prison.
It is not clear, as of this writing, whether Ms. Curbelo has hired an attorney.