“Terrorist” scare on SW Airline 3683 (= 911) “Youre all gonna DIE!”
Somewhere in the heavens above Amarillo, angry shouts rang out from the back of Southwest Airlines Flight 3683.
“You’re all going to die,” a man dressed in black screamed at passengers Tuesday afternoon. “You’re all going to hell. Allahu Akbar,” translated as God is great in Arabic.
Federal authorities arrested Ali Reza Shahsavari, 29, of Indialantic, Fla., onboard the Boeing 737 after pilots made an emergency landing at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport at 3:30 p.m. He is being held in the Randall County jail on a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew.
None of the 136 passengers and five crew members on the flight from Los Angeles to Kansas City was hurt, said Brad Hawkins, spokesman for Dallas-based Southwest.
Police said the incident began with Shahsavari arguing with another passenger. The flight crew separated the men, said Amarillo police Cpl. Jerry Neufeld.
Shahsavari went into a bathroom and yelled obscenities from the rear of the plane, said passenger Doug Oerding, of Sacramento, Calif. Attendants tried to calm Shahsavari before a female flight attendant finally succeeded in quieting him. Oerding said.
As the tension mounted, the aircraft began to gain speed and descend, Oerding said. The slender Navy veteran said he put his shoes back on in preparation to act.
“All of us guys were looking at him like, ‘Are we going to have to do something?’” Oerding said after finishing a cigarette outside the Amarillo terminal while waiting to reboard the plane.
Amarillo Aviation Director Patrick Rhodes said an emergency call was placed about 3:30 p.m. to the control tower at Rick Husband. The caller initially reported a male passenger was attempting to break into the cockpit, Rhodes said. Amarillo police said the call came from the cockpit.
“He was being disruptive and unruly on the flight, but he was not specifically trying to break into the cockpit,” Rhodes said.
When the plane reached a gate at the airport, police boarded it and arrested Shahsavari without incident, Neufeld said.
“He was waiting at the door when we went in,” Neufeld said. “He cooperated with officers.”
FBI Special Agent Mark White, based in Dallas, said the event did not appear to be an act of terrorism. He described Shahsavari as a U.S. citizen who might have experienced an episode of mental illness.
“It sounded like he sort of lost control of himself,” White said.
The aircraft diverted shortly after the incident, authorities said. The plane taxied to Gate 7 after landing, Rhodes said.
More than a dozen Amarillo detectives went to the airport to gather affidavits from passengers, officials said. The passengers were escorted from the plane to a secure area of the airport and were questioned before reboarding, police said.
The plane took off for Kansas City shortly after 5:30 p.m. The aircraft’s final destination was Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Sarah Horowitz said investigators were still gathering information on the incident Tuesday evening.
TSA agents removed Shahsavari’s luggage from the plane, searched it and turned it over to his unidentified sister, who was traveling with him, Neufeld said.
The sister stayed in Amarillo overnight, Neufeld said. He said there was a language barrier for investigators attempting to interview Shahsavari, who is of Iranian descent. Shahsavari was born in Mississippi, Neufeld said.
Neufeld said he did not know if there was an air marshal on the flight.
Aziza Musa, Michael Schumacher, Russell Anglin and Jim McBride contributed to this article.