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High on edibles, he tried opening a plane's exit door. It caused a wine bottle brawl.

A Tampa, Florida, man has pleaded guilty to four felony charges after he assaulted passengers and crew members on a Delta flight from Seattle to China during which he tried to open an exit door over the Pacific and punched flight attendants.
A Tampa, Florida, man has pleaded guilty to four felony charges after he assaulted passengers and crew members on a Delta flight from Seattle to China during which he tried to open an exit door over the Pacific and punched flight attendants. U.S. Attorney’s Office

It all started with a marijuana edible, prosecutors said.

Joseph Daniel Hudek IV, 24, ingested the edibles before a Delta flight from Seattle to Beijing last year, according to prosecutors — and by the time the plane had started flying over the Pacific Ocean on July 16, the Tampa, Fla., native was apparently feeling it.

First, about an hour into the flight, Hudek emerged from the plane’s first class bathroom looking visibly agitated. He then tried to lift the lever that would open the plane’s exit door, prosecutors said. Flight attendants saw what Hudek was doing, and tried to stop him.

That’s when the situation turned violent.

Hudek threw a punch at at one of the flight attendants, and forced another to the floor, prosecutors said. Eventually a passenger tried to intervene, but Hudek attacked him as well, prosecutors said — this time with a wine bottle to the passenger’s head.

hudek
Joseph D. Hudek IV Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office

At that point, court records said that Hudek went back to his original task: Opening the plane’s exit door as it flew over the Pacific, the Washington Post reports. Flight attendants told the FBI after the incident that had the plane been flying lower, Hudek may have managed to pry the door open.

Flight attendants tried again to subdue Hudek, the Post reports, smashing not one but two wine bottles on his head. But that didn’t have the intended effect: “Hudek did not seem impacted by the breaking of a full-liter red wine bottle over his head,” an FBI agent said, “and instead shouted ‘Do you know who I am?’ or something to that extent.”

Finally, passengers and the crew were able to band together and restrain Hudek, according to prosecutors. Then one of the passengers lowered the handle to the exit door to keep it from opening.

The plane had already turned around and to head back to Seattle during the brawl. The plane was carrying 210 passengers and 11 crew members, prosecutors said.

By the time it landed, parts of the aircraft were trashed — scattered with the remnants of broken dishes and sprayed with red wine, as photos released by the U.S. attorney’s office show.

Hudek pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to four felony charges in relation to the incident: interference with a flight crew, and three counts of assault in a special aircraft jurisdiction, according to federal prosecutors.

Once Hudek was subdued, his limbs were zip tied till the flight landed in Seattle, the Post reports. And even after the crew managed to get him off the flight and into the airport, he didn’t entirely settle down.

“He turned the wheelchair over in the middle of the airport,” passenger Dustin Jones told KIRO, adding that Hudek was “screaming for people to help him.”

After the flight, a flight attendant and passenger had to go to the hospital with severe facial injuries, Q13 reports. As a part of Hudek’s plea deal, he will pay restitution to the passengers who were injured on the flight, prosecutors said.

Hudek is out of jail on bond, but is barred from flying, according to prosecutors. He’ll be sentenced in May and faces up to 20 years in prison.

Hudek’s mother was a Delta employee, the Post reports, and he was flying first class that day on a “dependent pass.”

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