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Unruly passenger forces flight from London to Los Angeles to divert to Salt Lake City, airline says

<i>Rick Bowmer/AP</i><br/>A Virgin Atlantic flight bound for Los Angeles was forced to divert to Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday due to an unruly passenger.
Rick Bowmer/AP
A Virgin Atlantic flight bound for Los Angeles was forced to divert to Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday due to an unruly passenger.

By Jennifer Henderson and Chris Boyette, CNN

A disruptive passenger aboard a Virgin Atlantic flight from London’s Heathrow airport to Los Angeles on Tuesday caused the aircraft to be diverted to Salt Lake City, according to an airline statement.

William Stephen Hayes, 39, of the United Kingdom, was then arrested at the Salt Lake City airport on suspicion of being violent and unruly on an international flight, Salt Lake City police said in a news release.

Hayes was arrested on charges of interference with a flight crew and assault by striking, beating and wounding in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.

CNN has been unable to determine whether Hayes has secured an attorney. He was being held in a Salt Lake County jail, police said Wednesday.

Witness statements revealed that throughout the flight “Hayes was loud, disruptive, threatening and abusive to other passengers and to crew members,” according to documents filed in the US District Court of Utah.

“At one point during the flight, Hayes assaulted a male passenger seated in front of him, grabbing the passenger’s shirt, attempting to hit him, and grabbing his throat,” the documents state. Hayes also spat on and attempted to bite a passenger, according to the documents.

“Hayes was restrained by the passenger with the assistance of another passenger and crew members, and was placed in handcuffs,” the court documents said. “While restrained, Hayes continued to fight and be abusive, and attempted to kick the windows of the aircraft.”

The plane landed in Salt Lake City just after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to Passengers and flight staff still were restraining Hayes when police and US Customs and Border Protection officers met the flight crew at the airport, Salt Lake City police said.

An investigation still was underway Wednesday, and will be referred to federal prosecutors, police said.

After landing in Salt Lake City, the flight continued to Los Angeles and landed about four hours after its scheduled arrival, Virgin Atlantic said.

“The safety and wellbeing of our customers and crew is always our top priority and we don’t tolerate any behavior that compromises this,” the airline statement reads. “We always want our customers to have the best experience when they fly with us and our cabin crew are highly trained to deal with any individuals that may impact that experience for others.”

So far this year, 1,701 reports of unruly passengers have been made to the Federal Aviation Administration, with 582 investigations initiated, according to FAA data.

Last year was the worst on record for unruly airplane passenger behavior in the US, according to FAA data. In 2021, there were 5,981 reports of unruly passengers, with 1,113 investigations initiated.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Jason Hanna and Marnie Hunter contributed to this report.

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