It was an overcast, rainy day in Okinawa. The airport was empty when three U.S. Marines — Captain Daniel Kult, Sergeant John Dietrick, and Private First Class Alexander Meinhardt — boarded their flight in Tokyo, en route to Texas. They each had a different reason to be flying home, and none had worked together before — or even knew each other for that matter. They only recognized one another as fellow Marines because they “stuck out like sore thumbs with all of our gear,” Kult said.
None of them had any idea what was about to happen.
During a phone interview with Coffee or Die, Kult said that he ran into a minor hangup in the airport due to a misread of a potentially high fever. Once that was cleared up, he and the other Marines boarded separately. All three are attached to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force. He estimated there were approximately 30 people aboard the plane and everyone had their own row, in accordance with COVID-19 precautions. Meinhardt and Kult were seated in the front middle of the plane, about a row apart, and Dietrick was seated in the back middle.
The plane rolled down the runway and ascended into flight. Approximately halfway through their journey, Kult said that he was half asleep, watching a movie with headphones in, when he heard yelling. “It took me a minute to orient on what was going on,” he said. Kult looked over to Meinhardt and saw that he was staring back to the middle of the plane where the yelling was coming from. Dietrick was already standing and said that it sounded like someone needed help.
They made eye contact and moved toward the bathroom where the yelling was coming from.
“It was instinctual for us to work as a team,” Dietrick said.
Kult asked Dietrick what was going on as he and Meinhardt met. Without needing to say anything more, the trio of Marines stacked up on the door.
The Marines could hear yelling and the sound of things being thrown around behind the lavatory door. “At first I thought someone was just getting a little stir crazy from being in the air for so long, but then I heard him start yelling some very threatening and strange things so I realized it was more than just someone tired of flying,” Kult said.
The flight attendant worked seamlessly with the Marines, unlocking and opening the door.
The person inside froze when he saw the three Marines collapsing in on him. Kult said that since he was closest, he grabbed the passenger and pulled him out. Dietrick and Meinhardt helped bring him down to the floor as the man resisted. The flight attendant handed the Marines a set of flex cuffs, and they detained him quickly. According to Kult, the flight crew was excellent with communication and assisted every step of the way.
“He struggled, but it was not much,” Dietrick said. “The fight was out of him pretty quickly.”
When asked if they were concerned prior to the door opening, Kult said, “In my mind, I’m wondering if this guy somehow brought some kind of weapon on board, if he was trying to make a weapon with stuff out of the bathroom.” The three Marines were on the same page though, and said that they weren’t as worried after getting the door open and detaining the individual. Both Dietrick and Kult described the situation as fairly stress-free after opening the door.
After the man was detained, they lifted him to his seat and used the seatbelt and duct tape to secure the man to the chair. Kult said that the man continued to intermittently start yelling and struggle against his restraints, which required a couple of adjustments. The Marines continually talked with the man to try and keep him calm, even helping him drink water and setting up headphones and music for him.
Due to the altercation, the flight was diverted to the closest airport, which was in Los Angeles. The three Marines encircled the individual and stood over him for the approximately one-hour flight to Los Angeles. Once the plane was landed and parked, law enforcement immediately boarded the plane and took the man into custody. The police officers thanked the Marines for their in-flight help and walked the man off the plane.
The three Marines resumed their travel after the plane refueled. “I was really just kind of thinking how crazy the last hour or so had been,” Kult said after the dust had settled and he had a chance to think over the situation. “But [I] was more so glad that we were able to take care of it and keep moving along. I was also extremely impressed with how well the other two Marines had handled everything and how smoothly we worked together. And also how helpful all the training we get really is.”
When asked if he was ever afraid during the conflict, Dietrick said, “No, but I was glad that myself and the others were there to mitigate any danger that could have potentially happened!” Kult added that the members of the flight crew “were super professional and helpful and definitely were a key component to the whole thing.”