July 7, 2006

US soldier subdued on Florida flight

By Robert Green

TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - A U.S. soldier recently returned
from Iraq tried to force his way into the cockpit of a
Tampa-bound Delta Air Lines jet and was subdued by other
passengers, Tampa International Airport officials said on

The 24-year-old man was undergoing mental evaluation at a
Tampa hospital and the FBI was investigating whether charges
should be filed, airport spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan said.

The man, Neftali Alexander Laimendez, was flying with his
brother to see their mother in Tampa and to seek medical
attention, Geoghagan said.

As the flight from New York's LaGuardia Airport approached
Tampa on Thursday night, he ignored flight attendants'
instructions to sit down and fasten his seat belt, and ran up
the aisle of the plane and into the first class cabin,
Geoghagan said.

"As he is running, he is ramming the cockpit door, falling
on the aisle, getting up and repeatedly doing this," she said.
"Three or four of the passengers restrained him and held him on
the floor."

Airport police arrested him after the McDonnell Douglas
MD-88 landed. Laimendez was unarmed and wearing civilian
clothes, according to investigators who said his intent was

He was taken to a hospital for evaluation under a law that
allows people to be held involuntarily for 72 hours if they are
considered a threat to themselves or others, Geoghagan said.

Laimendez is a U.S. soldier who had recently returned to
the United States from Iraq, and his term of service was to end
on July 12, Geoghagan said.

Cockpit doors on all U.S. airliners have been reinforced
and locked since the September 11 hijackings.

"The hardening of the cockpit door worked," said airport
Executive Director Louis Miller, who praised the passengers who
tackled and subdued Laimendez.

"They're absolute heroes," he said in a teleconference with
reporters. "They got this incident under control. No one
overreacted, no one was hurt."

(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami)