Flight Diverted To Cleveland Because Of Unruly Passenger

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - A passenger aboard a small jet bound for New York refused to put out a cigarette in the cabin Friday and became verbally abusive, causing the crew to divert the plane to Cleveland.

The flight was a Delta connection operated by Atlantic Coast Airlines. The 32-passenger plane took off from Indianapolis at 8 a.m. EST bound for New York's LaGuardia Airport with 18 passengers and three crew members.

The plane landed in Cleveland at 9:19 a.m.

The passenger, whose name was not released, was a 35-year-old French man with a history of mental problems, said Natalia Martinovic, spokeswoman for Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. She said the man made passengers nervous with his erratic behavior that included changing seats several times.

"He mentioned the World Trade Center on the flight. We don't know in what context it was used," Martinovic said.

A flight attendant and another passenger -- an off-duty New York police officer -- subdued the man after he lighted a cigarette in the cabin and refused to put it out, she said. No one was hurt.

"The man became verbally abusive and lit up yet another cigarette and continued to be verbally abusive," said Rick Delisi, spokesman for Atlantic Coast Airlines. "The crew decided at that point because they were over Cleveland to divert to Cleveland."

Authorities removed the man at the terminal and his bags were removed from the plane. The flight resumed soon after.

Cleveland police took the passenger to a hospital where he was undergoing a psychological evaluation, Martinovic said. No charges were filed Friday, said police spokeswoman Lt. Sharon MacKay.

DeLisi said the airline's policy on diverting planes has not changed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and that crews have always had full authority to decide whether a diversion is necessary.

"For something like this where a passenger is repeatedly not following safety instructions, the proper course of action is a diversion, as long as a diversion is the safest option," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)