A man with a cigarette lighter tried unsuccessfully to ignite his own gas aboard a Delta flight yesterday. He was wrestled to the ground by passengers and members of the crew, inches away from the cockpit door. Witnesses say the suspect had his pants down and was attempting to emit gas while flicking a disposable lighter near his buttocks.
"It was horrible, disgusting," said Ellen Corby of Atlanta, who was traveling with her niece aboard the flight. "We could tell by how he scrunched his face he was serious. We were all scared."
The suspect allegedly walked to the front of the plane about 40 minutes after takeoff. Suddenly his pants dropped to his ankles. He had no underwear.
"At first we thought he was a drunk going to use the floor as a toilet, like we hear some people do on flights," said Gretchen Baker of Atlanta. "Then it became obvious he was trying to blow us up."
The suspect, said to be non-Arabic and in his early 20s, was intoxicated, authorities say. He allegedly squatted down, his buttocks facing the locked cockpit door, and produced a Bic lighter.
"Lucky for us, Bics do malfunction," said Lindsey Blode, of the Atlanta Concessions Bureau.
The suspect has not been identified, and it's not known if he has any terrorist ties, but a source familiar with the case says the suspect did try to persuade officials hours after being arrested that what happened aboard the flight was an impromptu act of youthful rebellion. A whole-body image scan, however, taken minutes before the plane departed, revealed the suspect's stomach contents in 3-dimensional detail: red beans and cabbage, bran cereal, prunes and Miller High Life.
The F.A.A. has proposed a 48-hour emergency ban on any fibrous material.