A 20-year-old California man faces up to 20 years' imprisonment if convicted on charges of punching a flight attendant on an Oct. 27 American Airlines flight. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 2 (UPI) -- A 20-year-old American Airlines passenger has been accused of punching a flight attendant in the face, forcing the plane en route from New York to California to divert to Colorado last week.
The American Airlines passenger, Brian Hsu of Irvine, Calif., was charged Monday by criminal complaint with interference with a flight crew and assault within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, the U.S. attorney's office for Colorado said in a statement.
If convicted, he could fate up to 20 years' imprisonment.
American Airlines Flight 976 from New York City to Santa Ana was diverted the evening of Oct. 27 to Denver following an altercation between a passenger and a flight attendant.
The charging document released Monday states officers with the Denver Police Department arrived at the aircraft at the Colorado airport and observed a woman who was employed as a flight attendant for the plane bleeding "from or around the nose."
The victim who was was not identified in the charging document told police that during the flight when all passengers were to be seated she was hit on the head as she was speaking with another flight attendant.
She turned and faced an unapologetic man identified as Hsu who told her he wanted to use the washroom. When she instructed him to return to his seat "the male passenger raised his arms as though he were going to stretch, but then brought his elbow down and struck the victim on the head," according to the court document.
A witness told investigators that the man punched the woman with "sufficient force" to cause her head to hit the lavatory door while another said he struck her with a "full swing."
"The victim then took a defensive posture with her arms out in front of her and her hands up. At that point, the male passenger initially backed down but then charged at her, flailing his arms," the woman is said to have told investigators, according to the document.
The woman then retreated to the first-class cabin where she was met by the lead flight attendant who placed a drink cart in the aisle to block passage to the flight deck, the document said.
After landing, the woman was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital where she was diagnosed with a concussion and was advised by doctors to undergo a second CT scan as the swelling of her nose prevented them from diagnosing if she had fractured the bone.
Hsu told investigators that he was returning home after undergoing brain surgery to reconstruct portions of his skull, which was necessary due to an injury he incurred in the fall of last year when he was assaulted in New York City.
The charging document says he told investigators he experiences a mental "fog" at times and that his parents think his behavior has changed since the incident.
He said the altercation occurred when he got up from his seat to use the bathroom and stretch. While in the corridor stretching, he accidentally bumped the flight attendant with his hand or arm, he told investigators.
Hsu then accused the woman of becoming agitated and swinging at his head with her arms, and because an impact to his skull could cause severe injury or death, he backed up toward his seat and raised his hands in defense, he said, according to the document.
"Hsu then stated the victim charged at him and hit her nose against the palm of his right hand," the charging document said.
He also denied the accusation that he hit her with a closed fist, arguing that he was incapable of making one with his right hand following a football injury sustained two or three weeks prior.
Hsu was to make his first court appearance Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The charges were announced as airlines have seen an increase in unruly-passenger incidents amid the pandemic.
According to statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration, there have been 923 investigations initiated this year, resulting in 216 enforcement cases initiated.
In the last 15 years, the second-highest number of initiated investigations was 310 in 2004.
As of Oct. 26, there have been 4,941 unruly-passenger reports and 3,580 mask-related incidents, the FAA said.
American Airlines Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker told customers in a video statement published to Instagram that the incident involving Hsu was "one of the worst displays of unruly behavior we've ever witnessed."
"Let me assure you, American Airlines will not tolerate airport or inflight misconduct of any kind, particularly toward our crew members or airport team," He said. "As of this individual, I can guarantee you he will never be able to fly American Airlines again."
"We're doing everything we can to ensure he is prosecuted to the fullest extent possible," he said.