A passenger who tried to break into the cockpit during a Southwest Airlines flight was killed by other passengers who restrained him and not by a heart attack, an autopsy has concluded.
The U.S. Attorney’s office, however, will not file criminal charges, saying Jonathan Burton’s Aug. 11 death was merely an act of self-defense by frightened passengers.
Burton, 19, of Las Vegas, became combative 20 minutes before Flight 1763 was due to land, hitting other passengers and pounding on the locked cockpit door.
As many as eight of the plane’s 120 passengers subdued him.
Burton died after being removed from the plane. Authorities believed he had died of a heart attack.
Traces of Marijuana
The autopsy report classified his death a homicide because it resulted from “intentional actions by another individual or individuals.”
The report, released by Burton’s family, said he suffocated. He also had contusions and abrasions on his torso, face and neck, and suffered other blunt force injuries.
“He was strangled, beaten and kicked,” said family attorney Kent Spence. “We’d like to know how this could have happened to this young man. This kid had no history of violence, he would sooner take a spider outside than kill it.”
The autopsy found low levels of marijuana in Burton’s tissues, but said that was an “unlikely explanation” for his violent outburst.
Air Rage Takes Off
The family has not decided whether to pursue a lawsuit against Southwest Airlines or the passengers, Spence said.
The outburst occurred as federal officials report a dramatic increase in air-rage incidents nationwide. Statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration showed 292 incidents of “unruly passengers” last year, up from 138 in 1995.
The FAA can recommend fines of up to $25,000 for airline passengers who “assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with a crew member.”