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Passenger faces federal charges

Friday, October 24, 2003

LAS VEGAS -- A Southwest Airlines flight headed to California was forced to return to Las Vegas when a passenger allegedly threatened to take down the plane with a bomb in his carry-on bag, authorities said.

Passengers and crew members restrained Salvador Gonzalez when he started walking to the front of the Boeing 737, pinning him in a row of seats, officials said. No bomb was found.

Gonzalez, 27, was charged with interfering with a flight crew, assault and other counts, and ordered held without bail by a federal magistrate. Gonzalez said during the court appearance that the charges against him were unwarranted. "They've turned it all around," he said.

Prosecutors said Gonzalez became agitated after Flight 2466 took off from McCarran International Airport on Wednesday. He then began opening overhead bins -- saying he had a bomb in his bag.

"Do I have to say there's a bomb to get you to land?" he said, adding that he was going to "take the aircraft down."

One passenger who helped restrain Gonzalez was kicked in the face, authorities said, while a flight attendant was kicked in the leg.

"The man wouldn't back down," said Bob Green, 48, of Riverside, Calif., who suffered a bruised nose and lip in the melee.

The aircraft returned to Las Vegas about 3:30 p.m. The flight was en route to Ontario, Calif., about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Whitney Eichinger, a Southwest spokeswoman in Dallas, said some of the 122 passengers and five crew members were questioned before they were booked on another Southwest flight.

Prosecutor Thomas Dougherty told the judge during Thursday's hearing that immigration officials were trying to determine the status of Gonzalez, a Mexican citizen. He also said Gonzalez acknowledged mental health problems.

The judge ordered a public defender be assigned to the case and set a preliminary hearing for Nov. 6.


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