JUNEAU, Alaska -- A passenger on a small plane bound for a tiny western Alaska community took control of the plane's yoke and caused it to nosedive before the pilot was able to regain control and safely land the aircraft, Alaska State Troopers said.
The incident occurred Wednesday on a flight between Bethel and Aniak, which is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Bethel. Troopers said a preliminary investigation indicated that an 18-year-old passenger got up from his seat and took control of the yoke before the pilot was able to regain control of the plane with help from passengers.
The Cessna Caravan had six people on board, with all five passenger seats occupied, said Austin McDaniel, a troopers spokesperson. The plane landed safely in Aniak, and the 18-year-old was arrested, troopers said.
McDaniel said by email that the individual had no relationship to the other passengers or the pilot.
McDaniel said the 18-year-old “had asked the pilot to fly the plane earlier during the flight and initially asked to sit in the unoccupied co-pilot seat. Both requests were denied by the pilot.”
McDaniel said the aircraft had no barrier between the rest of the aircraft and the pilot and co-pilot seats. Barriers are not typical in this type of aircraft in Alaska, he said.
The plane was in the process of landing when the incident occurred, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the airport, McDaniel said.
He said federal authorities also were notified.
Lisa K. Houghton, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Alaska, said the office works closely with local, state and federal law enforcement partners. “Any federal charges will be determined by the outcome of the investigation,” she said by email.
FBI spokesperson Chloe Martin said the agency is aware of the incident and in communication with law enforcement partners.
Lee Ryan, president of Ryan Air, the company that operated the flight, said the passenger “was in the second row of seats and kind of just reached over the copilot seat and briefly grabbed control of the aircraft.”
The pilot moved the passenger back and retook control of the airplane, Ryan said.
“Other passengers I’d say restrained the unruly passenger. But he wasn’t necessarily trying to do anything at that point,” Ryan said.
Ryan said the pilot handled the matter “very professionally.”
“We have different types of training and security training and different procedures, and he said he just moved him back in and landed without further incident, got on the radio and let our company know what was going on,” Ryan said.
He said safety is the air carrier's highest priority and he was glad "this ended without further incident.”
Ryan said changes could arise as a result of what happened.
Thiessen reported from Anchorage, Alaska.