California businessman Don Detrich said "count me in" when a fellow passenger on a flight soon after Sept. 11 said they'd have to act if anyone tried to hijack their plane. Then he realized he didn't know what to do.
That's when he came up with the idea for Flight Watch American Inc., a company to train fliers to handle everything from unruly passengers to terrorists.
Detrich felt passengers were unprepared for the role now thrust upon them. "If your plane is hijacked, like it or not, you've been drafted to do hand-to-hand combat with a crazed group of suicidal terrorists."
Detrich recruited husband and wife Michael and Dana Maudlin, both former police officers, to teach the course.
Dana Maudlin is also a flight attendant for a major airline. They held the first class earlier this month in an aviation museum in San Carlos, Calif., south of San Francisco.
Michael Maudlin told the participants: "We don't want you to be neurotic. We don't want you to get on a flight and be terrified the whole time. Think. Assess."
About two dozen people paid $350 each for the all-day class. Among them was retired San Francisco firefighter Paul Murray.
The 68-year-old Murray flies only a few times a year to visit his grandchildren. But Murray says he's ready to step in if need be.
"Am I willing to become involved?" he said. "Yes ma'am, I am. And I want to be as effective as I possibly can."
He's not alone. An ABCNEWS poll found 61 percent of Americans willing to take on skyjackers. Eighty percent of men and 44 percent of women said they would take action.
Would passengers overreact? A third of those polled worried that passengers would make things worse. But 51 percent felt the greater risk was failing to act.
Awareness and Vigilance
The Flight Watch course stresses that passengers should always follow a flight attendant's lead. The course doesn't teach self-defense. Instead it focuses on awareness, preparation, telling participants to watch out for suspicious passengers, and to figure out what's available on airplanes to use as restraints — items such as belts, shoe laces and headset cords.
Part of the class was held on board the wingless fuselage of an old 747. As flight attendant Dana Maudlin walked up the aisle, "hijacker" Michael Maudlin suddenly grabbed her and threatened to break her neck. Another "hijacker" tried to break down the cockpit door. Students, posing as passengers, were taught how to coordinate with other passengers to take on the hijackers.
In the first attempt they all went after Michael Maudlin holding his hostage, and forgot about the other hijacker. Once that was pointed out they tried again, but this time concentrated on the cockpit attacker and left Maudlin plenty of time to break the flight attendant's neck.
In the third attempt, both were subdued and led back to seats. Passengers brought out belts and a purse strap to tie them down.
Airlines have had no reaction to Detrich's class. A representative of the largest flight attendants' union, the Association of Flight Attendants, did sit in on the training. Bronagh Maugg said, "Any training that creates situational awareness is always going to be a benefit."
New federal regulations require flight attendants to turn to passengers for help if needed. Passengers have already helped to subdue the alleged shoe bomber and the man who tried to kick in the cockpit door on a United Airlines flight earlier this month from Miami to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Inspired by Flight 93
Many in the course say they were inspired by the actions of passengers on United Flight 93 on Sept. 11. They tried to take on the hijackers. The plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania, never reaching its intended target.
Class participant Jerry Bradbury knew someone on that flight.
"I would hope that should the situation arise in the future, and I was on a plane, that I would be able to respond with as much courage as they did."
More importantly, Bradbury and his fellow students hope the Flight Watch lessons are ones they never have to rely on.