A Holbrook man on an American Airlines flight to Kennedy Airport faces federal charges after causing a disturbance and threatening to "take the plane down," before the pilot diverted the Airbus A321 to Wichita, Kansas, officials said Wednesday.
When the plane, with 134 people on board, including six crew members, landed about 7:21 p.m. Tuesday, officers with Wichita Eisenhower National Airport arrested Jason Baroletti, 38.
Officers took him to Sedgwick County jail in Wichita. He is charged with one count of interfering with the performance of the duties of flight crew members, officials said. The charge carries a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom.
Reached by phone Wednesday night, Baroletti's relatives declined to comment.
Authorities said Baroletti later told an FBI agent he was joking when he made the threats.
Passengers told authorities Flight 622 had been airborne for about 10 minutes after taking off from Phoenix when Baroletti tried to smoke an e-cigarette. Flight attendants informed him smoking the device was prohibited. He asked for an alcoholic drink to ease anxiety and became irate after flight attendants refused his request, authorities said. Baroletti threatened the lives of passengers, including a doctor who advised against serving him alcohol, and said he would "slap the beard off" the face of the physician, authorities said.
"When he was refused alcohol, he told them he was going to take the plane down," said one witness, according to the federal complaint.
The doctor who was not identified told officials that after he advised Baroletti "alcohol is the last thing he needs," Baroletti "threatened to kill me and was going to take me out on [the] tarmac in New York and beat me," the complaint said.
The flight eventually arrived at Kennedy at 11:57 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. According to the complaint, Baroletti told an FBI agent he tried to smoke the e-cigarette but stopped when asked. He admitted to the agent he threatened to smack the beard off a passenger's face but said he meant it as a joke.
Baroletti told the agent he had taken anti-anxiety medication Tuesday morning and had two beers during a layover in Phoenix after starting his trip in California, the complaint said.
He said the comment about taking the plane down "was him portraying comedian Louis C.K. and was not serious," according to the complaint. He denied threatening to kill anyone.
Mica Disipio, who owns Mica D's Barber Shop in Ronkonkoma, said Baroletti has been a frequent customer for about 15 years.
"He's just a regular guy. He's a nice guy," Disipio said. " . . . He's not a violent person or anything. I'm just saying it probably just got blown out of proportion, he probably . . . ran his mouth, and you can't do that on a plane these days."
With Patricia Kitchen
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of people on the flight.