8 February 2002

Pilot fells attacker with axe

By Toby Harnden in Washington

A passenger who tried to storm the cockpit during a flight from Miami to Buenos Aires was hit with an axe by the pilot before being subdued by flight attendants and passengers.

"The pilot used an axe and basically hit him bluntly on the head," said Jan Boyer, an American who helped to tackle the man as the aircraft flew over Brazil. "This led to a lot of blood all over the place."

Moreira (left) is escorted into a United Airlines plane that will take him to Miami

Documents found in the man's wallet identified him as Pablo Moreira, 28, a banker from Uruguay. The FBI said there was no indication that he was a terrorist but the incident illustrated the heightened reactions of both aircrew and passengers since September 11.

United Airlines Flight 855 had taken off from Miami five hours earlier with 157 people on board. The announcement "All Crew Forward" was made over the public address system as Moreira kicked in the bottom section of the cockpit door.

Mr Boyer said: "He had actually inserted his torso into the cabin. I jumped on him." On the other side of the door, the pilot was using an axe to hit him on the head. The captain of the Boeing 777, who had been taking a break, then arrived and sat on him so that hand and leg restraints could be put on him.

Mr Boyer and other passengers then strapped Moreira into a seat in the business class section of the aircraft before spending the next three or four hours guarding him.

Moreira was in custody last night as the Argentinian authorities prepared to fly him back to Miami for questioning by the FBI.