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American Airlines flight diverted after passenger allegedly attacks flight attendant in what CEO calls "one of the worst displays of unruly behavior we've ever witnessed"

Flight diverted after passenger hits attendant
Flight diverted after passenger hits attendan... 02:07

An American Airlines flight from New York to Orange County, California, outside Los Angeles, was diverted to Denver Wednesday after a passenger allegedly assaulted a female flight attendant. The carrier says it's "outraged."

Witnesses initially described it as a dispute over wearing a mask, but American Airlines said the incident was not mask-related. 

American says Flight 976 from John F. Kennedy International Airport to John Wayne Airport, in Santa Ana, was diverted "due to a passenger who physically assaulted a flight attendant. The aircraft landed safely and taxied to the gate, where law enforcement removed and apprehended the passenger."

The Federal Aviation Administration, which confirmed the plane landed at 6:37 p.m. Denver time, says it will investigate. 

The flight attendant was taken to a local hospital, CBS L.A. reports. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union representing American Airlines flight attendants, said the employee suffered broken bones to the face. 

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker called the incident "one of the worst displays of unruly behavior we've ever witnessed."

The FBI Denver office said the investigation is ongoing.

One passenger, Mackenzie Rose, told CBS Los Angeles the incident occurred about halfway through the flight, when the plane was over Ohio. The passenger suspected of assaulting the flight attendant was apparently in first or business class.

Rose provided CBS L.A. with what she said is a photo of the man in Denver International Airport:

Rose told the station the flight attendant had blood on her after the assault.

"I saw her walk by and she had blood on the outside of her mask, which bless her, she was still wearing," Rose said.

In a statement, American said it's outraged by the reports of what took place on board. Parker said in an Instagram post that American Airlines will not tolerate airport or inflight misconduct of any kind, and called for "aggressive criminal prosecution."

"As for this individual, I can guarantee you he will never be allowed to fly American Airlines' again. But that is not enough — this type of behavior has to stop," Parker said.

No other injuries were reported. The suspect's name wasn't released. The plane continued to Santa Ana, where it arrived Wednesday night.

Unruly passenger behavior on planes has been increasing since travel re-opened after the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FAA has received almost 5,000 reports of such behavior this year, and more than 215 cases ended with penalties, according to CBS Denver. Violence against airline employees is federal offense, CBS L.A. points out. 

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