AUSTIN - A man has been arrested after a fight between passengers erupted on a Southwest Airlines plane, which prompted the pilot to return the plane to the Austin airport Tuesday afternoon.
A representative with Austin Bergstrom International Airport told KVUE Southwest 3590 was departing from Austin and heading to Chicago when there was a disturbance in the cabin. The flight then returned and landed safely at ABIA at around 5 p.m.
Two passengers were removed from the plane by the Austin Police Department.
On Wednesday, APD said that after an investigation was conducted, officers arrested Aaron Sweeney, 28, and charged him with public intoxication, resisting arrest and assault on a public servant. More charges may come at a later date. The FBI has also been contacted about possible federal charges related to interfering with a flight.
In a statement, Southwest confirmed that "an altercation on board between two passengers" caused the plane to turn around.
ABIA said the plane left Austin at 6:28 p.m. Southwest said the plane departed three-and-a-half hours behind schedule.
According to Lisa Birkman, a passenger on the plane and former Williamson County Commissioner, about 20 to 30 minutes into the flight one passenger was told to move seats.
"Then the pilot came on the intercom and said that we were turning around," she said.
She said two young males were taken off the plane when they landed.
According to an arrest affidavit issued for Sweeney, police arrived on the scene and interviewed a flight attendant who witnessed the alleged dispute. She said she saw Sweeney holding another man in a headlock while he repeatedly punched him in the head.
Police said the victim stated he did not know Sweeney and that he was sitting next to him when the suspect grabbed him in a headlock. The victim said at first he thought Sweeney was just playing around and asked him to stop, but Sweeney again put him in a headlock and began punching his head.
While interviewing the victim, police said Sweeney began showing additional signs of aggression causing the victim to be removed from the area for additional questions while the suspect was put into handcuffs for safety reasons.
Police said that while he was being detained, Sweeney illustrated signs of intoxication from alcohol including an odor from breath, glassy eyes and wobbly balance. Additionally, police reported that he continued to show signs of further aggression, ultimately leading police to strap the suspect in a wheelchair. The suspect was also accused of verbally challenging officers to fight him and kicking an officer in the thigh.
While being transported to a patrol car, police said the man repeatedly tried to resist arrest by pushing his feet against the floor to prevent the wheels from moving and attempting to overturn the chair.
The affidavit states that once Sweeney arrived at the jail, he loudly proclaimed that he was going to kill one of the officers involved in his arrest and repeated the officer's name and badge number several times.
Sweeney's lawyer released the following statement:
Aaron is a United States Army retired Sergeant who bravely served two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He is embarrassed and devastated over his recent conduct and looks forward to conveying his sincere apologies to everyone involved. While it does not completely dismiss his behavior, I hope that the public is sympathetic to the realities of posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of experiencing combat.
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