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Delta plane makes emergency landing after passenger assaults flight attendant and air marshal, police say

<i>Sue Ogrocki/AP</i><br/>A flight made an emergency landing at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City after an unruly passenger allegedly assaulted a flight attendant and air marshal.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
A flight made an emergency landing at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City after an unruly passenger allegedly assaulted a flight attendant and air marshal.

By Andy Rose, Kay Jones and Pete Muntean, CNN

A Delta flight from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles made an emergency landing in Oklahoma City on Thursday night after a passenger allegedly assaulted two people, authorities said.

“The passenger assaulted a flight attendant,” Oklahoma City Police Capt. Arthur Gregory told CNN. An air marshal on board Flight 324 also allegedly was assaulted while attempting to subdue the passenger, who was eventually restrained.

The Boeing 757-200 aircraft landed at Will Rogers World Airport at around 7:40 p.m. local time, Gregory said. The man was removed from the flight and interviewed by the FBI.

Oklahoma City Police said on Friday that the man was arrested and charged with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.

Jail records show that Ariel Pennington, 35, of Washington, DC, was booked at 11:16 p.m. into the Oklahoma City jail and released Friday morning at 4:54 a.m.

It is unclear if Pennington has a lawyer at this time. He is not listed in any court records.

The Transportation Security Administration said the suspect had been drinking.

Video taken by Axios reporter Sarah Mucha shows Pennington being led off the plane by two uniformed Oklahoma City Police officers.

“I’m trying to figure out why I’m getting arrested though,” Pennington is heard saying. “What happened?”

About three hours into the flight, a crew member made an announcement on the intercom system asking for “able-bodied men” to assist a flight attendant in the back of the plane, Mucha said.

Shortly after the announcement, one of the pilots informed passengers that they would be diverting to Oklahoma City, the reporter said.

While on the ground, Mucha began filming as authorities led Pennington off the plane.

“They had to do health checks on the flight attendant so that he was OK to fly,” she said. “Once he was cleared, he continued to fly all the way to (Los Angeles).”

TSA said the incident was not over mask rules. Last week, the federal mask mandate on all forms of public transportation including commercial flights was extended through March 18.

The Federal Aviation Administration says alcohol — especially passengers illegally drinking their own brought on board — is a top driver for violent passenger disturbances on commercial flights.

Last month, the FAA said it “received nearly 300 reports of passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication” this year.

The FAA announced fines in late November for eight passengers totaling $161,823 for alleged alcohol-related unruly behavior.

The Department of Justice has said that it is prioritizing the prosecution of federal crimes on commercial aircraft.

“The Department of Justice is committed to using its resources to do its part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence and other criminal behavior that endangers the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants on commercial aircraft,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement November 24.

A TSA spokesperson tells CNN that the air marshal did not ultimately need medical attention. There was no word on the nature of the injuries to the flight attendant.

Delta Air Lines hailed the “quick action and professionalism of the crew” and federal air marshals on the flight. “We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience.”

The flight left Oklahoma City after a delay of about an hour. Video from CNN affiliate KCAL/KCBS showed the plane landing at Los Angeles International Airport at 10:18 p.m. local time.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Marnie Hunter and Paul P. Murphy contributed to this report.

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