Flight diverts after passenger tries to open door

May 8, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The incident caused Continental Flight No. 546 to divert to Lambert International Airport in St. Louis on Sunday afternoon.

Another passenger has been credited with stopping the suspect from opening that exit.

Tony Harris is a 60-year-old Vietnam War veteran who also has martial arts training. Harris says he was supposed to sit in seat 23 but for some reason the airline switched him into seat 12. He says that had he been in the back of the plane, he may have never have heard the commotion in the front. The Chicago native was flying in from Houston to surprise his 84-year-old mother Virginia Harris on Mother's Day.

"When I heard what happened, he was destined to be on the flight to save people," Virginia Harris said about her son.

About an hour and a half into the flight, Harris heard the flight attendant scream. He immediately jumped out of his seat to help with an unruly passenger.

"He just pushed her right over, so he assaulted her. So at that time, I'm already in motion," Harris said.

Harris says the passenger was a husky guy who grabbed the door handle to the plane door. Two other passengers tried to subdue the man but didn't have any luck, so Harris put his martial arts training to work.

"I knew I had to get him off the door, I jumped on him wrapped my legs around him and he still wouldn't go down," Harris said.

After two more tries that included a knee in the man's back, Harris got the passenger down and lost the heal to his shoe in the process. The 34-year-old unruly passenger was placed in handcuffs and Harris was in charge of sitting next to him until the plane landed in St. Louis.

"I asked him, 'What in the hell were you doing? What were you thinking?' He just said it was Mother's Day," Harris said.

It was Mother's Day that drove Harris to stop the passenger from opening the plane door and bringing the plane and all the passengers down with him. Sonia Cunningham is grateful for Harris who was sitting right behind her.

"I think it's great and I think we should continue to fly. Because if we let foolish people dictate how we live our lives we might as well quit," Cunningham said.

Harris' heroic efforts does not surprise his mother. After all, it was her oldest son who was wearing a Superman shirt in a childhood painting.

"The greatest Mother's Day gift. I haven't had my son in quite a while," Virginia Harris said.

The 34-year-old Burbank man was taken into custody in St. Louis. So far, charges have not been filed. Officials are saying this was not an act of terrorism.

Copyright © 2019 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.