Passenger uses box cutter on Frontier Airlines flight prompts emergency landing: TSA

A passenger on a Frontier Airlines flight who was suspected of boarding the plane with two box cutters and was seen acting erratically was taken into custody after an emergency landing Friday night, according to the airline and the Transportation Security Administration.

Several passengers on the flight, including military veterans and former law enforcement officers, helped crew members relieve the man after landing, according to eyewitnesses.

The flight was en route to Tampa from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport when it was diverted to Atlanta “after a passenger on board was observed to be in possession of a box cutter,” Frontier said in a statement.

PHOTO: Footage shows police escorting passengers off a Frontier Airlines flight after it made an emergency landing at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Nov. 11, 2022.

Background footage captures police escorting passengers from a Frontier Airlines flight after an emergency landing at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Nov. 11, 2022.

Obtained by ABC News

The TSA said in a statement Saturday that the plane was diverted around 9:30 p.m. “after a disturbance involving a disruptive passenger, who had a box cutter declared.” After a search, a second box cutter was found on an unidentified passenger, according to the TSA.

Atlanta police are assisting their federal partners in apprehending the suspect, Atlanta Police Department spokesman Officer John Predmore said. Predmore directed further questions to the FBI, which is leading the investigation.

The FBI declined to comment and referred ABC News to the TSA’s statement.

No injuries to passengers or crew were reported, the airline said. The Federal Aviation Administration, which also investigated, said the plane landed safely “after the crew declared an emergency due to unruly passengers”.

Before the emergency landing, several passengers saw that the man was behaving inappropriately, eyewitnesses said.

Passenger Ben Mutz told ABC News he spoke to the person in the window seat next to the man after they deplaned. The passenger told Mutz that the man “thrust a box knife at me and said, ‘I want to kill or I want to stab people,'” Mutz said.

Larry Cumberbatch was sitting in the third row, flying from Cincinnati to Tampa to visit his son for his birthday. He told ABC News that a woman who was initially sitting in the row seat next to the man reported seeing “some kind of knife” and feared for her safety.

Flight attendants asked if anyone had a military or police background and would move seats or go to the back of the plane, he said. Cumberbatch, a Navy veteran, volunteered to switch seats with the woman, he said.

At the back of the plane, Cumberbatch found the man leaning against the window seat passenger with his feet on the aisle seat, before getting up to go to the bathroom.

When the man came out of the bathroom, he confronted Cumberbatch in the hallway, in what Cumberbatch described as a “showdown”.

“The people there, you can literally see them scared. So that’s why I’m standing there, to give them a calm presence and let this person know that someone is watching, someone you have to deal with if you go to the next level,” Cumberbatch said.

Cumberbatch said the former member of law enforcement talked to the man during the landing to calm him down.

PHOTO: Footage shows police escorting passengers off a Frontier Airlines flight after it made an emergency landing at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Nov. 11, 2022.

Background footage captures police escorting passengers from a Frontier Airlines flight after an emergency landing at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Nov. 11, 2022.

Obtained by ABC News

Once the plane touched down, passengers were told to leave without taking their belongings, according to Mutz. He said he and others didn’t realize they had made an emergency landing until they turned on their phones and realized they were in Atlanta.

Cumberbatch and the Army veteran remained on the plane while the former officer helped escort the man down the aisle, he said. When police officers arrived, the man was “shaken up” and the former officer gave him a warning before arresting him, Cumberbatch said.

“In my mind, he really was a hero at the time,” Cumberbatch said.

The man was later taken into custody by police, according to Cumberbatch, who said he spoke to FBI agents after the incident.

Cumberbatch said he was “not surprised” that the veterans responded at the time.

“We will take control of any situation that comes our way,” he said.

Passengers on the flight were provided hotel accommodation and rebooked on a new flight to Tampa on Saturday morning.

Box cutters are prohibited in the cabin, but allowed in checked baggage.

The TSA said it is conducting an internal review of the incident and will examine surveillance footage and “airport security checkpoint processes/operations.”

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