January 12, 2010 / 12:20 AM / 8 years ago

Passenger charged in U.S. jet scare

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An unruly passenger whose apparently drunken behavior last week prompted an AirTran Airways aircraft to make an emergency landing escorted by fighter jets was charged on Monday with interference with a flight crew.

Muhammad Abu Tahir, 47, was scheduled to appear in court in Denver on Wednesday to be advised of the charges pending against him, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

The appearance had earlier been set for Tuesday but was changed due to issues related to scheduling an interpreter.

Two F-16 fighter jets were dispatched to escort the San Francisco-bound aircraft, which originated in Atlanta, to an emergency landing in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“During the course of the flight, Tahir consumed five airplane-size bottles of wine. After being served the fifth bottle the flight crew refused to serve him any additional alcohol. Tahir then locked himself in the aircraft lavatory,” the department of justice said.

“Based on Tahir’s belligerent and aggressive behavior ... flight attendants positioned beverage carts in the rear and in the front of the aircraft to prevent Tahir from moving toward the cockpit,” it said.

The incident was the latest in a spate of plane scares as jitters grip the U.S. airline industry in the wake of a foiled airline bombing attempt on Christmas Day on a Detroit-bound passenger plane.

If convicted, Tahir faces up to 20 years in federal prison, and a fine of up to $250,000, or both, as well as restitution to the airline, the Department of Justice said.

Reporting and writing by Ed Stoddard, editing by Dan Whitcomb and Todd Eastham

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