Flight crews take lessons in self-defense

Monday, November 5, 2001

NAPERVILLE, Ill. -- Some airline workers are heading to a karate studio to get what they can't find in any flight crew handbook: instructions in taking down a knife-wielding terrorist.

Seventeen flight attendants and pilots accepted a free offer from Sharkey's Karate Studio in Naperville this weekend to learn self-defense.

Before, 33-year-old flight attendant Beth McCann of Plainfield, never would have rushed someone with a knife. But on Saturday she eagerly learned how to use dexterity instead of muscle to throw an attacker off balance.

"Now that I know moving forward may be the only way to save my life, I would definitely do it," the United Airlines employee said. "When you're in the air, there's nowhere to run."

Those who attended the seminar said they are glad someone is focusing on physical training, which they say has been largely ignored in the debate over heightened airline security since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The House of Representatives has passed measures to strengthen cockpit doors, add sky marshals on airplanes and allow pilots to carry guns.

United pilot Jim Wantrobski, 33, said he attended the class because he wants more emphasis on physical self-defense.

"Most commercial pilots were trained in the military. We're coming from the Navy and the Air Force, but even there you don't get a lot of hand-to-hand training unless you're a ground person," Wantrobski said. "So we're longing for it."

Lead instructor Ray Boyer said the studio "wanted to do something to pay back the pilots and flight attendants for their dedication. Hopefully, they can learn some theories here today and develop their own techniques with a little practice."

One technique he demonstrated involved looping a towel over a man's head from behind and jerking it back to knock him off his feet.

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