Lisa Olsen of East Greenwich turned around in her seat Sunday and started recording on her phone when she heard a passenger arguing with a flight attendant a couple rows behind her five hours into a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston Sunday, March 5. That video has become a bit of a sensation, taking the story of an unruly passenger and bringing it to vivid life.
Olsen was traveling home with her husband, Martin, and 17-year-old daughter, Sydney, an EGHS senior, after a work event. The flight had been completely uneventful for Olsen up to that moment. She learned later it hadn’t been completely uneventful for flight attendants. But she only found that out after the plane landed.
Olsen said one man seated in the row behind the agitated man tried to calm him down. The other man was babbling and becoming increasingly upset, calling himself Balthazar. He threatened to kill people – just the men, “the women and children are safe,” he said.
By this time, Olsen said, passengers were getting upset. A woman approached the man – Francisco Severo Torres, 33, of Leominster, Mass., and told him he was scaring people. Sitting in the window seat beside her mom, Sydney Olsen was crying.
“So, where’s Homeland Security with the gun?” Torres yelled, “so that I can show everybody … that I won’t die.” At that point, a large man came up the aisle and Torres jumped into the aisle and was suddenly a lot closer to the Olsens’ row.
Olsen said it looked like Torres was holding an imaginary bow. She learned later – it’s visible on her video – that Torres was holding a broken metal spoon fashioned “like a shank,” said Olsen.
The video shows Torres turning at that point. According to Olsen, he yelled that he was going to take over the plane and ran toward the front. His way was blocked at first class by two flight attendants. Torres lunged at one of them and, Olsen said, “immediately there were so many men on the plane out of their seats and running toward the action. They got Torres to the floor and flight attendants used zip ties to restrain him. He got free of the first set of ties. They tried again, this time securing them tighter. At that point, they had about 30 minutes left to Boston so men on the plane took turns holding Torres down.
By now, everyone else on the plane was calmer, though Torres keeps yelling. Once the plane landed, Massachusetts State Police boarded and took Torres into custody. It was only then that Olsen learned more about what had happened, as the state police reviewed the scene and talked with flight attendants.
It turned out, Torres had gone into a bathroom at one point, carrying his backpack, and stayed there for a noticeably long time, possibly turning that metal spoon into a weapon. Then he went to the door between coach and first class where he allegedly tried to open it.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston, the flight crew had received an alarm in the cockpit that the door had been disarmed. A flight attendant found the door’s locking handle was no longer in the fully locked position and the emergency slide arming lever had been moved to the “disarmed” position. Both were re-secured. That was when attention shifted to Torres, who had been seen by that door earlier. One of the flight attendants began questioning him in his seat, he started getting upset and Olsen began videoing.
“Knowing what we learned after the fact made it scarier,” said Olsen. She expressed gratitude for both the flight attendants and those passengers who leapt into action. There were no military or police among the passengers – ”just a bunch of business people,” said Olsen. They showed no hesitation and that brought everyone’s fear level down. “There was a sense of camaraderie,” she said, with one man replacing another replacing another helping to hold Torres down.
Once they got home, Olsen sent the video to her two older daughters. The state police had said they would be in contact with questions so Olsen figured she would just give them the video at that point. But her daughters started sharing it around and suddenly she realized she had something big on her hands. She reached out to Channel 10 and soon she was getting calls, texts, LinkedIn requests – everyone wanted the video. Over the past two days, Olsen has been on all the news shows, morning shows, and in the Providence Journal and the Boston Globe. She has shared the video widely, including with EG News, taking no money for it, with hopes it does some good.
The irony is that Olsen is not the type of person that usually whips out their phone to video something. “That’s not me,” she said. Yet, at that moment, she did turn her phone camera to the action. And, as it turned out, she was the only one on the flight who did.