Passenger refusing mask assaults, bloodies attendant on California flight, witness says

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A passenger physically assaulted an American Airlines flight attendant and caused the plane to be diverted, the airline said.

American Airlines Flight 976 left New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and was heading to Santa Ana, California, on Wednesday evening. The flight was diverted to Denver after a passenger physically assaulted a flight attendant, the airline told McClatchy News.

The passenger was removed from the plane and apprehended by law enforcement.

Witnesses told news outlets the passenger was refusing to wear a mask when they punched the flight attendant.

“I understand that he actually punched her twice,” a witness told KCAL. “I did see her walk back down the aisle afterwards. She had blood splattered on the outside of her mask. If you’re not prepared to wear a mask, you’re not prepared to fly.”

Another witness told WABC that a doctor on board told the flight attendant that her nose wasn’t broken, but she was bleeding badly enough to go to a hospital.

The airline said “local law enforcement and the FBI” are gathering information on what happened. The passenger will also be banned from American Airlines flights.

“We will not be satisfied until he has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” the airline said. “This behavior must stop, and aggressive enforcement and prosecution of the law is the best deterrent.”

The Federal Aviation Administration implemented a zero-tolerance policy in January after seeing “a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior.”

“These incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the U.S. Capitol,” a January news release from the FAA reads.

The agency has received thousands of reports of unruly passengers in 2021. As of Tuesday, the FAA had received 3,580 reports of “mask-related incidents” and opened 923 investigations.

Assaulting a flight crew member or a flight attendant could be punishable by up to 20 years in prison, according to Cornell Law School. The FAA can also fine an unruly passenger up to $37,000 per violation.

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