Law enforcement arrested a teenager after he grabbed the controls of an airplane in midflight from Napakiak to Bethel, causing the plane to shoot towards the ground. With the help of a passenger, the pilot took back control of the aircraft and no injuries have been reported.
Locals often laugh about the flight between the two nearby communities. It lasts about four minutes, with little time for anything to happen between takeoff and landing. But Thursday’s flight operated by the regional airline Yute Commuter Service (YCS) was different.
According to Alaska State Troopers, shortly after takeoff, a 16-year-old sitting in the front passenger seat grabbed control of the plane’s yoke and “caused the plane to enter a steep climb and then a dive towards the ground.”
A woman sitting behind the teenager grabbed the boy around the neck with her arm and pulled him away from the controls. The pilot was able to then regain control of the aircraft and return to Napakiak. The YCS agent in Napakiak called the Village Public Safety Officer to detain the teenager, but the teenager ran away before the officer could take him into custody. The next day, law enforcement located and arrested the teenager in Bethel.
YCS Business Manager Keith Henthorn says that the aircraft used in this incident, a Piper Cherokee 6, has no mechanism to lock out the passenger flight controls and that the company will continue to allow passengers to sit in the front seat of their aircraft.
Because the teenager is a minor, his name has not been released by the criminal justice system. It is a federal offense to interfere with the duties of a flight crew, and the FBI is involved with the case, along with state troopers, the Bethel District Attorney’s Office, and the Division of Juvenile Justice.
The three other passengers on the flight were able to land in Bethel after the teenager unloaded in Napakiak.