Student Pilot Tried Bum-Rushing Plane’s Cockpit Mid-Flight: Complaint

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A student pilot on an Alaska Airlines flight from San Diego, California to Washington, D.C. is facing charges after allegedly trying to rush the aircraft’s flight deck multiple times during the five-hour flight.

Nathan Jones told flight attendants that he “was testing them,” according to a criminal complaint obtained by The Daily Beast. It was filed in Virginia federal court March 4, the day after Jones was arrested for interference with flight crew members, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

On March 3, Jones took his assigned seat—6A—aboard Alaska flight 322, the complaint states. He then proceeded to make “three separate attempts to go to the front of the plane and open the aircraft’s cockpit door before flight attendants requested the assistance of off-duty law enforcement officers, who restrained Jones in flexcuffs and sat on either side of him for the remainder of the flight,” according to the document.

The cockpit was “locked down for the remainder of the flight.”

“One of the flight attendants had to move from his assigned area in the back of the plane to the front of the plane to help assist other flight attendants because of Jones actions,” the complaint continues. “The flight attendants also had to put the beverage cart out as a barrier to block the cockpit, and one of the flight attendants remained with the beverage cart.”

When flight attendants asked Jones why he had tried to get into the cockpit, “Jones replied that he ‘was testing them,’” according to the complaint. After the plane landed at Washington Dulles International Airport, officers with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police Department contacted the FBI about Jones, who gave them permission to search his carry-on bags and checked luggage, the complaint says.

“Agents found multiple notebooks with writings describing how to operate an aircraft, including take-off, in-air, and landing techniques,” it states. “Jones’ wallet contained his student pilot’s license.”

It’s not the first incident to strike fear into the hearts of Alaska Airlines passengers in recent months.

In October, an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot riding in the cockpit jumpseat of a flight from Everett, Washington to San Francisco tried to shut down the aircraft’s engines mid-flight, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon. The aviator, identified as 44-year-old Mark Joseph Emerson, said he was tripping on psychedelic mushrooms when he attempted to cut power to the engines. He pleaded not guilty to one count of endangering aircraft in the first degree and 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person. Last month, an American Airlines passenger also had to be duct-taped to his seat after he reportedly tried to open an exit door while en route from Albuquerque to Chicago.

In addition to those incidents, a Jan. 5 Alaska Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing when part of the fuselage panel ripped off mid-flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration has received 336 reports of unruly passengers aboard commercial aircraft so far in 2024. In 2023, the FAA handled 2,075 unruly passenger cases, down from 2,455 in 2022, and a high of 5,973 in 2021.

Jones’ attorney, Robert Lee Jenkins, Jr., did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday evening.

Jones remains detained pending a mental health evaluation, and is scheduled to appear in court on March 18.

A representative for Alaska Airlines said the company “can confirm that the guest is prohibited from flying with Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air.”