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Face of Defense: Airman Defuses Commercial Airline Incident

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
Special to American Forces Press Service

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del., June 29, 2009 – It was enough to make even the calmest airline passengers nervous: an irate man pacing the aisles of a commercial flight shouting, “I want to slit the captain’s throat!”

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Col. Thomas Kauth, Logistics Assessment Branch chief, presents Senior Airman Nicholas Barker, 436th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, a certificate of appreciation for his excellence during Dover Air Force Base’s Logistics Standardization and Evaluation Program inspection. Two months later, Barker showed his excellence again by subduing an irate man on an international commercial flight. U.S. Air Force photo by Tom Randle

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

However, in the face of this peril on a June 9 U.S. borne flight to Italy, a Dover mechanic came to the rescue.

Though Senior Airman Nicholas Barker, 436th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, looked like the many other passengers, by the end of the flight it was apparent he was different – he was a hero.

Barker was headed to Naples, where he was to report for maintenance readiness training. However, fate had a different plan for the crew chief that day and he soon found himself in a perilous situation, strong-arming and securing an enraged man speaking Italian.

“He was pacing up and down the aircraft almost as he was looking for something,” explained the Plymouth, Mich., native. “I wasn’t the only person to notice his strange behavior. People all around were looking at him as if he was drunk and the crew was trying to calm him down.”

Since Barker doesn’t speak Italian, he did not know the severity of the situation at first, but recalled the state of affairs leading up to his intervention.

“The aircraft’s captain came to our section of the plane to try to get the guy back to his seat,” Barker said. “One of the flight attendants looked at me and said, ‘We may need your help.’”

Barker stood up, but the situation seemed to calm and the passenger seemed to be heading to his seat. Barker returned to his seat as well. A little while later, a voice came over the airliner’s public announcement system asking if anyone had law enforcement or military training.

Barker made his way to the rear of the plane to see what he could do to help. What he found in the plane’s rear was the same guy, more irate than before, saying he hoped the engine would catch fire and that he wanted to slit the captain’s throat. The situation required immediate action.

“A crew member handed me a pair of plastic [hand] cuffs,” Barker recalled. “As I began to walk over to the passenger, he saw the cuffs and started to resist. I then gave the cuffs to a flight attendant so that I could restrain him.”

Barker, along with the many other passengers that day, found themselves in a situation that could have gone downhill fast. Barker knew he had to act.

“I grabbed the guy’s forearm, put my elbow into his shoulder and held him by his throat,” he explained. “I wasn’t choking him, but applying enough pressure that he knew I could if I needed.”

With the man subdued, a flight attendant was able to cuff his hands and feet. After that, Barker situated the man upright in his seat, buckled him in, and tied his cuffs to his seat belt. After he was secure in his restraints, Barker returned to his seat near the front of the aircraft.

It soon became apparent that the man was trying to free himself from his restraints, and Barker was summoned again.

“I just took a seat adjacent to him to keep an intimidating eye on him – it kept him calm,” he said. There was not any more trouble for the remainder of the flight.

Afterward, Barker reflected on his training and the fact that being in the military gave him a leg up in the situation.

“[Servicemembers] know to not freeze up under pressure,” said Barker, adding that most servicemembers willingly sacrifice their safety for that of others. “I didn't have time to think. I knew this guy was a possible threat and this just had to be done.”

The 436th AMXS commander, Maj. Stephanie Halcrow, was not surprised by Barker’s actions.

In fact, excellence seems to be a Barker trademark. He was recognized by Air Mobility Command’s Logistics Standardization and Evaluation Program inspection team for his superior performance during an April inspection.

Halcrow reacted to Barker’s recent heroism in five simple words, “Senior Airman Barker – our hero!”

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace serves with the 436th Air Wing public affairs office).

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