A passenger on a commercial flight from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage last week became so unruly with a flight attendant that an off-duty police officer restrained him using zip ties provided by another passenger, according to federal charges.
Marc Ryan Hetsler, a 43-year-old from Washington state, was taken into custody at the Anchorage Correctional Complex after the Aleutian Airways flight landed March 1.
On Thursday, Hetsler was expected to be released from jail with no additional penalties.
Hetsler in a plea agreement filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Alaska pleaded guilty to assault in the air and admitted he confronted the flight attendant and had to be controlled by the officer and fellow passengers. The plea agreement called for no additional jail time beyond the eight days Hetsler served, and no fines or supervised release. The maximum sentence he faced was six months of imprisonment, a $100,000 fine and a year of supervised release.
Hetsler was sentenced to time served on Thursday, according to his federal public defender.
The incident comes as pressure grows for a no-fly list amid what the Federal Aviation Administration calls a “disturbing increase” in incidents involving passengers disrupting flights with threatening or violent behavior. This week alone, a man was arrested after being accused of trying to attack a crew member and open a door on a flight from L.A. to Boston and a man on a flight still on the ground in Dallas was described as assaulting another passenger.
Before the Aleutian Airways flight departed Dutch Harbor around 1:30 p.m. March 1, a gate agent warned the flight attendant that Hetsler, the last passenger to board, had “given them a little bit of a problem but was currently alright to board the aircraft,” according to a sworn affidavit filed in the case March 2 by an FBI special agent. The attendant asked if alcohol was involved and the gate agent said not that she was aware of.
The gate agent then escorted Hetsler to the plane’s very last row, according to the affidavit. The flight attendant — who said she’d worked flights out of Dutch Harbor for 10 years and was working alone — assessed him during takeoff procedures, and he seemed “OK” but very talkative with a woman sitting next to him.
Once the plane reached 10,000 feet, the flight attendant told investigators, she began to prepare the beverage cart when she noticed Hetsler appeared restless and then, after she turned away for a moment, was suddenly “on the floor on his stomach in the middle of the aisle,” the special agent wrote.
Hetsler became combative and started swinging his arms when the attendant tried to rouse him and get him back to his seat, the affidavit states.
At that point, the off-duty police officer intervened and restrained Hetsler with the zip ties the other passenger “just happened to have on them,” the special agent wrote. The flight attendant alerted the captain because it was possible the flight would need to divert to King Salmon.
Hetsler, now sitting with the off-duty officer, “continued to cause problems. He was bashing his head into the seat; would not stop talking; occasionally yelling; and insisting they take off the zip ties,” the FBI agent wrote.
At 3:20 p.m., with the flight within 30 minutes of landing, Anchorage airport police dispatch notified the FBI, according to the affidavit. The special agent as well as airport police officers interviewed the flight crew, the flight attendant, witnesses and Hetsler.
Hetsler later told investigators he “drank a lot” before boarding the flight due to an anxiety issue and didn’t remember much of what happened, the special agent wrote. A passenger next to him said he appeared to take a couple shots of something as the flight got underway.
About four hours after he boarded the flight, Hetsler’s breath alcohol content measured more than three times the legal limit for driving, according to the affidavit.
Hetsler could not be reached Thursday. His public defender declined to comment.
Brian Whilden, the general manager of Aleutian Airways, said he couldn’t comment on the plea agreement and that last week’s incident became a “non-issue” for the airline once authorities took over.
“We followed all the procedures we were supposed to follow,” Whilden said Thursday.
Hetsler was arrested on felony harassment charges in Washington state last fall after a group of “young adult males” playing basketball at a church in Battle Ground told police he threatened to kill them with a rock, according to a Clark County jail pre-book sheet. Hetsler had exhibited erratic behavior in the same neighborhood, where he lives, the officer wrote.
He served 43 days in jail and was convicted after pleading guilty, according to an online database.