A Brazilian airliner safely made a forced landing after a passenger had a "psychotic attack," entered the cockpit and assaulted a pilot, crew members and passengers who tried to subdue him, witnesses said.
The TAM Airlines jet was en route from Montevideo, Uruguay, to Sao Paulo when a man who some passengers said was wearing a TAM identification badge got into the cockpit because the door was open. Shortly after, the plane dove to the right, causing passengers to scream and the pilot to yell for help over the speaker system.
"All of a sudden shouts were heard from inside the cabin, and two stewardesses came out asking for help and grabbing a young man by his feet," one unidentified passenger told Uruguay's El Pais newspaper. "The people quickly jumped on top of him, the guy fought back furiously, biting and hurting a half dozen people.
"In a kind of collective action they were able to immobilize him, tying him to a seat."
Uruguay's Industry Minister Roberto Kreimerman was on board the Saturday afternoon flight, leading a trade delegation that was on its way to China. He told Uruguayan newspaper El Observador that when the plane veered sharply, passengers started screaming and fearing for their lives.
The jet safely landed at the Porto Alegre airport in southern Brazil about 20 minutes after the incident with the man subdued in the rear of the plane, a police spokesman said Sunday. The suspect was arrested by federal police and taken to a mental care facility.
TAM confirmed the incident in a brief emailed statement, but offered few details.
Flight 8047 "landed at the Porto Alegre airport because of an uproar on board. ... The incident is being investigated by authorities, with the collaboration of the company," the statement read.
An airline spokeswoman in Sao Paulo would not confirm if the cockpit was breached nor if the attacker was a TAM employee, as passengers told newspapers in Brazil and Uruguay.
"It seemed as if we were in a movie about the 9/11 attacks," passenger Matias Velazco, a former journalist for El Observador, told the newspaper.
He said it took about 10 minutes for crew members and passengers to subdue the man.
"Four of them tried to hold him down and they couldn't. One tried to give him an injection to sedate him, another hit him and still they couldn't control him," Velazco said.
The suspect was eventually tied up with plastic handcuffs, taken to the rear of the plane and pinned into a back seat.
The unidentified passenger who spoke to the El Pais newspaper said that "the man injured various passengers, biting them and hitting them. Luckily that was the worst that happened, but it could have been a tragedy."
Federal police inspector Luiz Daiello told Porto Alegre's Zero Hora newspaper the suspect had "suffered a psychotic attack" while on board. The man calmed down as the plane was landing.
But Daiello said once federal police tried to take the man into custody, he became violent, and had to be subdued with a stun gun before being taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation.