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By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) - A Delta Air Lines passenger was charged on Friday with instigating a mid-air brawl with flight attendants and other passengers who fought desperately to restrain him as he tried opening the exit door of a plane bound from Seattle to China.
Joseph Daniel Hudek IV, 23, of Tampa, Florida, was arrested on Thursday when the Delta jetliner, a Boeing 767-300 with 221 people aboard, flew back to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for an unscheduled landing two hours after takeoff.
The plane was turned around due to an in-flight altercation detailed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an affidavit filed the next day as part of the criminal complaint against Hudek, who was a first-class passenger on the flight.
According to the FBI, the incident began when Hudek lunged for an exit door at the front of the plane, grabbed the handle and tried to open it, prompting a desperate scuffle with crew members and passengers who battled to subdue him.
In the course of the disturbance, the FBI said, Hudek repeatedly punched a flight attendant and a fellow passenger, and persisted in trying to pull open the door, even as a second flight attendant struck him over the head with two large wine bottles. Both flight attendants were women.
Hudek was finally restrained with zip ties as several passengers joined the fray, but not before he managed to pull the door lever halfway to the open position, the FBI said.
The affidavit made no mention of what might have precipitated the melee. According to the FBI, Hudek had been served a beer but showed no sign of intoxication. At one point during the scuffle, it said, he shouted, "Do you know who I am?"
The plane landed safely, and the two individuals punched during the struggle were treated for facial injuries, according to the affidavit.
Hudek appeared on Friday in U.S. district court in Seattle, where he was presented the complaint charging one count of interfering with a flight crew, a felony offence punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
He was ordered to remain in federal custody without bail pending a July 13 detention hearing, according to Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle.
The incident came weeks after a similar incident aboard an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, in which a Turkish passenger tried to force his way toward the plane's cockpit, triggering a bomb scare that prompted the U.S. military to scramble fighter jets to escort the plane to its landing.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)