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A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Seattle offers a blow-by-blow account of the insanity that unfolded Thursday night on Delta flight 129 from Seattle (SEA) to Beijing, China (PEK).

The passenger, identified in the complaint as 23-year old Joseph Daniel Hudek IV, was flying in the Delta One premium cabin when he attempted to open an emergency exit at 32,000 feet, threw punches at flight attendants and passengers who attempted to restrain him and had at least one wine bottle broken over his head.

The complaint states that Hudek, was seated in seat 1D, and was traveling on a “dependent pass” given to him by a Delta employee; (news reports have indicated Hudek’s mother works for Delta). He was served one beer before take off, but did not appear to be intoxicated or impaired otherwise. After takeoff, Hudek went to the forward lavatory, briefly emerged to ask a flight attendant a question, then went back in for approximately two minutes.

Upon exiting, Hudek “lunged toward the forward right exit door of the aircraft, grabbed the handle, and attempted to open it,” according to the complaint. Two Delta flight attendants attempted to grab him and stop him, but he pushed them away and kept trying to open the door.


Mugshot of Joseph Daniel Hudek IV.

As one of the flight attendants motioned for help from other passengers and informed the captain of the issue (who began diverting back to Seattle), the other flight attendant continued to struggle with Hudek, who punched the attendant twice in the face. He then hit one of the male passengers, who was attempting to restrain him, with a wine bottle and punched him multiple times, including at least two shots to the eye.

At that point, a flight attendant hit Hudek over his head with two full-size wine bottles, breaking at least one of them. However, the impact appeared to have no effect on Hudek, who responded by shouting “Do you know who I am?”

The passenger who had earlier been punched got Hudek into a headlock. He was unable to hold it, but with the assistance of several other premium cabin passengers, the group was able to restrain Hudek long enough to get zip ties around his hands. The criminal complaint states that despite being immobilized, “Hudek remained extremely combative, and multiple passengers were needed to restrain Hudek and keep him restrained until the plane landed safely back at Sea-Tac airport.”

The aftermath of the altercation with Hudek on Delta flight 129, submitted as an exhibit with the criminal complaint.

The Delta flight landed back in Seattle a little after 7pm and police officers took custody of Hudek, who according to the complaint “remained combative and noncompliant with officers throughout the process.” The flight attendant and passenger who had been punched by Hudek were transported to a local hospital with severe facial injuries.

As noted in the complaint, during the altercation Hudek was able to twist the emergency exit door arm by 90 degrees, technically disarming it. However, it would be nearly impossible for a human being to open an emergency exit door at 32,000 feet due to the outside air pressure. Still, as the plane descended and the pressure lessened, it is conceivable the door could have opened. Thankfully, once Hudek was secured, a flight attendant was able to rearm the door before that could occur.

This is one of the craziest air incidents we’ve heard about in recent years. It’s not clear what happened to cause Hudek to explode, but obviously something was very wrong. As for the Delta employee who gave Hudek the travel pass, we asked a Delta flight attendant what was likely to happen to that person.

“If you act up on a buddy pass or any other kind of pass travel, chances are the person the pass travel is linked to will lose the benefit,” said the flight attendant, who requested anonymity. “It is a terminable offense — especially if you have a record you could get fired for it. If you have a clean record you lose travel benefits.”

Praise certainly goes to the flight attendants and passengers who worked together to stop this man from causing a potentially catastrophic accident. We wish the two individuals who suffered injuries a speedy recovery.


Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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