- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

BUENOS AIRES A passenger tried to force his way into the cockpit of a United Airlines plane carrying 157 persons yesterday on a flight from Miami but was subdued after the co-pilot hit him over the head with a small ax.

Pablo Moreira, a banker from Uruguay, was restrained by the flight crew and later arrested by police after the flight landed as scheduled in Buenos Aires at 10:30 a.m. local time, said Judy Orihuela, an FBI spokeswoman in Miami.

"No information at this time indicates it's a terrorist incident. But, of course, the FBI is investigating," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for President Bush's Homeland Security Council.

United Airlines Flight 855 took off from Miami at midnight with 142 passengers and 15 crew members aboard. The flight originated in San Francisco but Mr. Moreira boarded in Miami.

The 28-year-old Uruguayan began kicking the cockpit door of the Boeing 777 about five hours into the flight, as the jetliner flew over Brazil, Miss Orihuela said.

He kicked in a small breakaway panel across the bottom half of the door and then stuck his head inside the cockpit, said United spokeswoman Chris Nardella.

At that point, one of the pilots grabbed a small ax and hit Mr. Moreira in the head, she said.

"The passenger never gained full entry due to the reinforced cockpit door bar United has installed on all of its fleet," Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jack Creighton said in a statement.

Mr. Moreira did not appear drunk and was not armed, Miss Orihuela said. She was unaware of what prompted him to try to enter the cockpit.

Mr. Moreira, who was lucid and in stable condition, was restrained for the remainder of the flight but was provided medical attention, the airline and the FBI said. A flight attendant also received minor injuries in the struggle, Miss Orihuela said.

The suspect was turned over to local authorities in Argentina, where he was to be charged with interfering with a flight crew, Miss Orihuela said.

Brian Hopman, an Associated Press sales associate who was a passenger on the flight, said the man seemed as if he wanted to talk to the pilot and approached the cockpit, prompting the crew to react quickly.

"There was a huge panic," said Mr. Hopman. "Red lights were flashing and an army of people rushed forward to the front of the plane."

The last hours of the flight across South America proceeded normally, Mr. Hopman said.

In his statement, Mr. Creighton said Mr. Moreira "was processed to the fullest extent of United's security procedures prior to boarding the aircraft."

"It is regrettable that our pilots, flight attendants and any passengers had to take these actions, but the cockpit door reinforcement and the quick action of the flight crew allowed the flight to land safely in Buenos Aires," he said.

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