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Airman secures commercial aircraft with disruptive passenger onboard

Staff Sgt. Drew Mayo, 37th Intelligence Squadron senior intelligence analyst, recently found himself using his military training to de-escalate a crisis while onboard an aircraft to Los Angeles. Mayo was ultimately successful in calming the passenger and keeping everyone on board safe.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin Baxter)

Staff Sgt. Drew Mayo, 37th Intelligence Squadron senior intelligence analyst, recently found himself using his military training to de-escalate a crisis while onboard an aircraft to Los Angeles. Mayo was ultimately successful in calming the passenger and keeping everyone on board safe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin Baxter)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --

Airmen train to be ready for any situation, not knowing when the occasion will arise to use their skills. 

For Staff Sgt. Drew Mayo, 37th Intelligence Squadron senior intelligence analyst, his moment to step in and provide crisis control came while traveling to Los Angeles. 

  “Two hours after takeoff is when I first noticed something was wrong,” said Mayo.

Seated near the front of the plane, Mayo noticed a group of flight attendants attempting to enter the bathroom. He could tell by their expressions something was wrong, so he stood up and offered his help.

A passenger took all of his belongings and locked himself in the bathroom, refusing to speak to anyone aside from the FBI or the captain of the aircraft. 

“With just that information to go on, we thought he might be trying to create a weapon or bomb in the bathroom,” said Mayo. “The flight crew put me on the phone with the captain of the flight, who was also Air Force, and the airline’s security center headquarters. After talking on the phone with them, they agreed to let me try talking him out.” 

“He was very hostile and agitated at first, but after about an hour he agreed to come out and sit with me,” said Mayo. “They gave me a pair of plastic handcuffs to restrain him, but he left the bathroom peacefully. At this point, we were about 3 hours from landing in LA, so I had to keep him calm for the rest of the flight.”

It turned out the man believed another passenger was a police officer who was trying to kill him for something he witnessed him do. When he exited the bathroom, he still had hold of a pen that he had been using to threaten the other passengers and aircrew.

Believing the man was mentally disabled, Mayo knew he had to carefully talk him down and de-escalate the situation by trying to talk about the man’s family. 

“About 15 minutes before landing I finally convinced him to give up the pen,” said Mayo. “I was relieved because I didn’t want it to get violent once the police came on board, but luckily they managed to get him off the aircraft without incident.” 

Mayo attributes the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training he received before his deployment to the Middle East in 2018 as the biggest help in the situation. 

“You get a lot of knowledge about how to communicate with hostile individuals and de-escalate situations,” said Mayo. “I honestly don’t think I could have talked him out of the bathroom without the training.”

“Drew spent some time in a deployed location prior to arriving at our unit and the team he was with instilled confidence in himself,” said Senior Master Sgt. Derrick Lodge, 37th IS superintendent.  “He is the type that takes action when he sees an issue, so while the situation on the flight was surprising, his actions and efforts to ensure the safety of those around him were not.” 

The ability to keep a level head allowed Mayo to go above and beyond in this situation, keeping everyone on the flight safe from harm.

As a result, the airline rewarded Mayo with a gift basket and a phone call of thanks from the vice president of the airline.