CLEVELAND, Texas – The Cleveland Independent School District officer who subdued an unruly passenger Sunday aboard a Houston-bound Southwest flight said she was just doing what she had to do to keep her family and passengers safe.
“We were very excited, we were almost home,” Pamela Minchew said.
Minchew was returning to Houston from a weeklong vacation in California with her 10-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.
She said a woman appeared disheveled and confused as she boarded the flight in Los Angeles.
“As soon as the seat belt light went off she started walking back and forth throughout the plane, down the asile, but she would walk backwards. I later found out that apparently she was passing notes to other passengers saying she needed help.” Minchew said.
Officer Minchew said Southwest employees aboard the flight from Los Angeles to Hobby Airport were phenomenal in their handling of the woman’s erratic behavior, moving her from an exit row seat to the back of the plane.
The flight was about an hour away from Houston when the woman jumped over passengers and tried to open the emergency exit, Minchew said.
"When I (saw) she had the clear-plastic (cover) in her hand, I just jumped up, self-identified and subdued her," Minchew said. "I did later find out that the door would not have opened in the air, but I did not know that while we were sitting there. She had to grab the handle, so she was not getting a hold of that handle."
Minchew, who said she is a nervous air traveler herself, said she was just thinking about her children who were on the plane and all the other passengers when she sprang into action.
"As my kids say, 'I used my mommy voice,'" Minchew said. "I did command presence. At that point, I’m assuming everyone heard me say, 'I’m an officer,' because everybody stayed calm."
The plane made an emergency landing in Corpus Christi, where the troubled woman was removed by the FBI.
Minchew, who has been on the job at Cleveland ISD for three weeks, said the passengers cheered when she reboarded the final plane bound for Houston.
The flight landed in Houston about 6:30 p.m.
Passengers said the woman seemed disturbed before she boarded the airplane in Los Angeles. They said airport security even confronted the woman because she was shouting. Some wondered why the woman was allowed to board an airplane in the first place.
“The government should do a better job of checking out who they’re letting in the airport when they’re standing there screaming at themselves,” passenger Brittany Laviana said.
Neither the FBI or Southwest Airlines will identify the woman or discuss the investigation except to say she is not in federal custody.
Southwest released the following statement about the incident:
"The Captain in command of Southwest flight 4519 today from Los Angeles International Airport to William P. Hobby Airport in Houston elected to divert to Corpus Christi International Airport after flight attendants notified the Captain and First Officer of a potential threat in the Cabin. Following an uneventful landing, local authorities met the aircraft at a gate and removed the disruptive passenger. The safe operation of every flight is our highest priority and we expect the aircraft to depart shortly to complete the journey to Houston."