S A L T L A K E C I T Y, Sept 16 -- A passenger who tried to break into thecockpit during a Southwest Airlines flight was killed by otherpassengers who restrained him and not by a heart attack, an autopsy hasconcluded.
The U.S. Attorney’s office, however, will not file criminalcharges, saying Jonathan Burton’s Aug. 11 death was merely an actof self-defense by frightened passengers.
Burton, 19, of Las Vegas, became combative 20 minutes beforeFlight 1763 was due to land, hitting other passengers and poundingon the locked cockpit door.
As many as eight of the plane’s 120 passengers subdued him.
Burton died after being removed from the plane. Authoritiesbelieved he had died of a heart attack.
Traces of Marijuana
The autopsy report classified his death a homicidebecause it resulted from “intentional actions by anotherindividual or individuals.”
The report, released by Burton’s family, said he suffocated. Healso had contusions and abrasions on his torso, face and neck, andsuffered other blunt force injuries.
“He was strangled, beaten and kicked,” said family attorneyKent Spence. “We’d like to know how this could have happened to this young man. This kid had no history of violence, he wouldsooner 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 violentoutburst.
Air Rage Takes Off
The family has not decided whether to pursue a lawsuit againstSouthwest Airlines or the passengers, Spence said.
The outburst occurred as federal officials report a dramaticincrease in air-rage incidents nationwide. Statistics from theFederal Aviation Administration showed 292 incidents of “unrulypassengers” last year, up from 138 in 1995.
The FAA can recommend fines of up to $25,000 for airlinepassengers who “assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with acrew member.”