TODAY   |  May 28, 2013

Jet passenger allegedly tried to open emergency door

A passenger on an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage was subdued after speaking strangely and trying to open the emergency door as the plane began its descent into Portland. His father told KGW-TV his son is bipolar and off his medications. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

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>>> this morning, details of a scare in mid air. an unruly passenger tried to open an emergency exit during an alaska airlines flight from anchorage to portland , oregon and had to be subdued by fellow passengers and the crew. nbc's mike taibbi is in portland with this story. mike, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, savannah. imagine you're on a long, overnight flight, the plane desending, whether suddenly you're awakened by screaming. a fellow passenger who was speaking strangely is now acting dangerously, trying his best to open the emergency door. he doesn't know and you don't know the doors designed to not open mid flight. all you know is it's terrifying. that's what happened yesterday on alaska airlines flight 132. the fbi identified the passenger as 23-year-old alexander michael herrera , an arizona resident, who witnesses say had been talking to himself when he suddenly grabbed the exit emergency door and tried to open it.

>> i could see his face, and he was very determined. he was trying to get that door open. it looked like he was trying to get out.

>> i put him in a -- a choke hold, and kind of went up over the seat a bit and brought him down to the ground.

>> reporter: the flight attendants helped restrain herrera with seatbelt straps. herrera has a history of mental illness , according to his father, who spoke by phone.

>> about two or three years ago, he was diagnosed with by polar, he was taking some medication. he did not like t he stopped the medication. he was acting normal. he did not have anymore manias. life was okay.

>> reporter: airline passengers are getting increasingly proactive in protecting themselves. back in january, passengers on a transatlantic flight bound from new york duct taped a drunken passenger in place after he attacked a woman seated near him and started screaming about the plane crashing. and there were cheers two weeks ago when a flight was forced to make an emergency landing to remove a female passenger who had been singing whitney houston songs nonstop at the top of her lungs. love you

>> reporter: passenger misbehavior has gotten so bad that one airline, hong kong air , is now giving its flight crews mandatory training in wing chung , a martial arts form ideal for confined spaces. but for herrera , it was fellow passengers who kept a bad situation from getting worse. herrera faces a hearing later today on a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew . savannah?

>> mike taibbi in portland , thank you very much.

>> i don't care that you're technically not supposed to be able to open one of those doors because of the locking system. that would panic you if you see someone heading toward it, trying to open it. you've got the rest of the morning's top stories, natalie?

>> that's right, good morning, matt