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Flight From New York's JFK To John Wayne Airport Diverts To Denver After Flight Attendant Attacked By Passenger

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — An American Airlines flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on its way to John Wayne Airport in Orange County Wednesday evening diverted to Denver after a passenger assaulted a female flight attendant.

Officials with the flight attendants' union said the passenger got out of his seat and punched the flight attendant in front of the galley, severely injuring her.

"After a flight attendant, who was working in a different cabin, bumped this passenger, we're told, she then walked into one of the flight galleys and this passenger approached her and punched her in the face at least twice," said Paul Hartshorn Jr., with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. "That's what we know right now and she sustained broken bones in her nose and her face."

AA Flight
Passenger suspected of alleged assault of a female flight attendant on AA Flight 976 from JFK to John Wayne Airport. (source: unnamed AA passenger)

The Federal Aviation Administration said AA Flight 976 landed safely at Denver International Airport at 6:37 p.m. Mountain time. According to the airline, law enforcement removed the passenger.

American Americans told CBS News Thursday that they do not believe the attack was mask-related, as one passenger had told CBSLA it might be.

The flight attendant, union officials told CBS News Thursday, was treated at a Denver hospital for broken bones to her face and was hoping to return home Thursday afternoon.

The FAA is investigating, along with the FBI.

"I understand that he actually punched her twice," said Mackenzie Rose, a passenger on the flight. "I did see her walk back down the aisle afterwards. She had blood splattered on the outside of her mask."

Another passenger, identified only as Jack, said a doctor aboard the flight did look at the flight attendant after the assault.

"Yeah, there was a doctor on the flight, luckily," Jack said. "So, I don't know. He said it wasn't broken, but it was bleeding, so they took her to the hospital," he said.

No other injuries were reported, nor was the suspect's name released.

American Airlines provided CBSLA the following statement Wednesday evening:

"We are outraged by the reports of what took place on board. Acts of violence against our team members are not tolerated by American Airlines. We have engaged local law enforcement and the FBI  and we are working with them to ensure they have all the information they need. The individual involved in this incident will never be allowed to travel with American Airlines in the future, but we will not be satisfied until he has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This behavior must stop and aggressive enforcement and prosecution of the law is the best deterent. 

We thank our crew for their quick action and professionalism to ensure the safety of their fellow team members and customers on board. Our thoughts are with our injured flight attendant and ensuring that she and her fellow crew members have the support they need at this time."

The flight attendants union said it wants the FAA and the Department of Transportation to prosecute violators, as well as ban them from every airline to protect crew members and the flying public.

"Look, we need passengers to feel safe on board an aircraft, whether that is with the virus or whether that is knowing it's going to be safe and they're not going to be attacked or witness an attack that puts the airplane in jeopardy at 35,000 feet," Hartshorn said.

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