Gary Walton was on Southwest Airlines Flight 722 from Chicago to Sacramento on Sunday when he heard someone scream “Don’t do that! Don’t do that!”
A man was trying to open the plane’s emergency exit door mid-flight, in an incident that has received national attention. Walton, a Davis resident, jumped up and was one of a handful of passengers who physically subdued the man, Joshua Suggs of Sacramento.
“I thought maybe it was a domestic situation,” recalled Walton, a professor emeritus of economics and former dean of the Graduate School of Management at UC Davis.
Walton rushed to the back of the cabin and found two men pinning Suggs, who was trying to open the emergency exit, against the wall.
“I thought maybe I was going out that door,” Walton said, but he grabbed Suggs’ right leg and “pulled it up as high as I could.”
“Then I got my arms round his shoe and ankle,” he said. “I cranked left,” which destabilized Suggs and brought him to the ground. “Then it was a pile-on.”
Suggs was cuffed and the plane made an emergency stop in Omaha, Neb., to hand him over to authorities.
Walton has no idea why the man tried to force open the emergency door mid-flight.
As Suggs exited the plane in Omaha, “he seemed just kind of lost-looking,” Walton said. “He was looking straight down; he wasn’t making eye contact with anybody. He just looked lost.”
“I don’t think the guy was trying to harm anybody,” he added.
The U.S. Attorney for the District of Nebraska filed a criminal complaint against Suggs on Monday for interfering with flight crew members.
“Once a year we’ll get somebody that causes a ruckus on a plane,” said Jan Sharp, Crimes Unit chief at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nebraska.
But someone trying to open an exit door during a flight? “We haven’t seen that before,” Sharp said.
For his effort, Walton received two free beers.
“They were most apologetic and very complimentary,” he said about the airline.