CLEVELAND — A Barberton police officer who was on vacation, jumped into action when an unruly passenger allegedly tried to open the exit door during the flight. The incident happened Wednesday on a Spirit Airlines flight NK 185 from Cleveland to Los Angeles, which was diverted to Denver due to the disturbance.
Witnesses say 23-year-old Jahmir Ahmmad Williams exited a plane bathroom without a shirt on, and then tried to remove the pin and attempted to pull the armed lever on an exit door. He told federal authorities that he "wanted to kill everyone" on the aircraft," according to a federal criminal complaint.
Officer Stephen Coburn spoke to 3News exclusively via Zoom on Sunday from his hotel room in Las Vegas to share details of the harrowing ordeal.
"It's our 6-month anniversary, and we were just trying to go on vacation," said Coburn, who was looking forward to a much-needed break with his girlfriend, Chelsea Boor, a local nurse and paramedic. But about three hours into the flight, he heard the first signs of trouble.
"I heard someone yell, 'He's trying to get out the door,' and I heard someone yell, 'Help!'" he recalled.
That's when his police officer instincts kicked in and he ran to the back of the plane where the unruly passenger was fighting with flight attendants who were attempting to put zip-ties on his wrists.
NBC News obtained video of the struggle on board the plane, as Coburn and flight attendants wrestled with the man, who "tried to bite us, scratch us and head-butt us if he could. I got head-butted, like, three times. Once in the mouth, and twice in the head, and you can see [in the video] I kind of got the cobwebs knocked out. I got my bell rung."
Little did most passengers know that airplane doors are actually impossible to open at cruising altitude because the immense pressure against the door is more than any person can overcome.
"You don't stop to think about that in an emergency situation," Boor said. "You're thinking, oh my gosh, we have to stop this guy, or he's going to kill everyone on this plane."
Meanwhile, the plane felt like it was taking a nosedive, as it quickly descended to make the emergency landing in Denver. Once the plane landed at Denver International Airport, the other passengers exited and police and a medic boarded to speak with Williams, the complaint says.
Initially, Williams did not respond to the medic or officers and then "suddenly and violently" hit his head into the wall, according to the complaint. Due to his "agitation and combativeness," he was given a sedative.
Two flight attendants reported having sustained bruises and cuts during the altercation.
After about a four-hour delay in Denver, Coburn and Boor were back on their way to Los Angeles, and their final destination, Las Vegas, for that long-awaited break.
He shrugged off any comments from people who are calling him a hero. To him, it's just another day on -- or off -- the job.
"The vast majority of police officers just instinctively have it in them to help," he said. "The training and experience just automatically kicks in."