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Passenger arrested for attempting to remove emergency exit in flight

Multnomah County Sheriff's Dept.

Alexander Michael Herrera

A 23-year-old man is in custody after passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight say he tried to open an emergency exit as the plane descended into Portland International Airport early Monday.

Alexander Michael Herrera is expected to be charged with interfering with a flight crew after he began making "unusual statements" and then attempted to open the emergency door, the FBI said in a statement.  Passengers were able to restrain Herrera before he could fully remove the door, and tied him up using shoe strings and seat belt extensions.

Witnesses told NBC Portland affiliate KGW that a panic erupted as the flight from Anchorage to Portland was preparing to land. A woman sitting in the exit row next to Herrera began screaming as he started to open the emergency exit.

Henry Pignataro was seated three rows back and responded when he heard the commotion. "The woman next to the passenger said 'Somebody please help,'" he told KGW. "I put him in a choke hold and brought him down to the ground."

Passengers wrestled Herrera into the aisle and asked flight attendants for something to help restrain the man. At first the flight crew could only find three shoe-lace-sized strings, Pignataro said. They soon after were brought extra seat belt extensions for further backup.

"He kept trying to roll to his side, asking why we were doing this to him, why we were trying to hurt him," Pignataro said of the suspect.

Once restrained, Herrera remained calm until the flight landed safely. He was detained by Port of Portland Police Officers and later arrested by the FBI.

It is unclear what exactly the suspect was saying before he attempted to remove the door, but Pignataro said he did not notice anything suspicious about the man before the incident.

"He looked like a normal 20-something-year old gentleman," he said.

No one on the flight carrying 137 passengers was injured, according to authorities.

Herrera is expected to make his first court appearance on Tuesday before a federal magistrate in Portland.