A pilot, a faulty lock on a bathroom door and a man with a thick foreign accent combined to turn a seemingly routine landing at New York’s LaGuardia Airport into anything but last night.
The scare began when the pilot of Delta flight 6132, traveling from Asheville, N. C., to New York City, decided to take a bathroom break when the plane was put into a holding pattern over New York. A faulty door latch on the airplane’s lavatory, however, kept the pilot trapped inside, and sent his co-pilot on high alert.
“We are 180 knots, 10,000 [feet], uh, can we leave the frequency for a minute, we are going to try to, uh, contact dispatch,” the co-pilot radioed in to air traffic control as he circled the plane above LaGuardia.
Just seconds earlier, a male passenger with a thick foreign accent tried to gain access to the cockpit to tell the co-pilot the captain wasn’t going to make the landing.
The passenger, one of 14 on board, was following the pilot’s instructions, delivered through the bathroom door, to go to the cockpit to alert the crew to his situation.
“I’m not just surprised that the captain would give a passenger the code,” said John Nance, an aviation consultant. “I’m kind of astonished.”
The surprise attempt to enter the highly-secured cockpit alarmed the co-pilot, who did not buy the passenger’s story and who, again, radioed air traffic control.
“The captain has disappeared in the back and, uh, I have someone with a thick foreign accent trying to access the cockpit right now…,” the co-pilot reported.
“What I’m being told is he’s stuck in the lav,” the co-pilot continued. “Someone with a thick foreign accent is giving me a password to access the cockpit, and I’m not about to let him in.”
Not willing to take any chances themselves, air controllers on the ground ordered the plane, operated by regional carrier Chautauqua Airlines, to make an emergency landing.
Before the co-pilot was forced to make that emergency landing, however, the pilot was able to open the bathroom door, and calm his anxious colleagues.
“The captain, myself, went back to the lavatory and the door latch broke and I had to fight my way out of it with my body to get the door open,” he explained to air traffic control.
“There is no issue, no threat,” he said.
Frank Cilluffo of the Homeland Security Institute at George Washington University said that the first officer did the right thing.
“At the end of the day it was an unknown person and an unknown voice trying to access the cockpit,” he said. “You don’t open the door.”
Sources tell ABC News that fighter planes were alerted to the situation, but not called into service.
The FBI and Port Authority cops were on the ground to meet the plane when it finally landed, safely, around 6:30 p.m.
No one was charged in the incident. A spokesman for Chautauqua Airlines told the New York Post that cops talked to the passenger and realized it was all a misunderstanding.