Arrested Passenger Distraught Over Dying Brother

October 17, 2011

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A passenger accused of a drunken rage that forced the diversion of an American Airlines jet said he was drinking because he was distraught about his dying brother.

Varoujan Khodjamirian, 43, arrested on Thursday night when the plane landed safely in Denver, appeared the following day in federal court on a charge of interfering with a commercial flight crew.

A US Attorney's Office spokesman said there was no evidence to suggest Khodjamirian, a Long Island resident of Ukrainian descent, was a terrorist.

An FBI arrest affidavit said Khodjamirian had consumed several alcoholic drinks and became loud and disruptive about 90 minutes after takeoff on a flight from New York to Los Angeles, as he started to kick the seats in front of him.

According to the affidavit, flight attendants tried to calm Khodjamirian down, and then moved him to the rear of the plane, but he struck one attendant in the face and began yelling threats.

Members of the crew ultimately managed to restrain him with flexible handcuffs, and two attendants sat on him until the plane arrived in Denver, according to the US Attorney's Office for Colorado.

Speaking through an interpreter before a US magistrate, Khodjamirian acknowledged drinking alcohol on the plane and added he had been drinking because his brother was dying and had just two days to live. "That's why I had alcohol."

The judge ordered him to remain in custody at least until next Tuesday, when he is due to return to court to determine if he is eligible for release on bond.