They heard a pop that sounded like fireworks.They saw a glow of flame followed by a rush of smoke. And that wasenough for passengers on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to pounce.
From several seats away, Dutch tourist Jasper Schuringa says hejumped to extinguish a fire ignited by a quiet man who just momentsbefore allegedly told passengers his stomach was upset and pulled ablanket over himself. Schuringa said his first thought wasn't tosignal a flight attendant or wait for an air marshal to breakcover, but rather, "He's trying to blow up the plane."
"I basically reacted directly," Schuringa said Saturday in aninterview with CNN. "I didn't think. I just jumped. I just wentover there and tried to save the plane."
Aviation safety experts once would have called Schuringa'sactions a mistake and cautioned passengers against fighting backduring hijackings and other crises in the air. That was before theSept. 11 attacks and the actions of passengers on United Flight 93,who learned while aloft about the hijacked jets that slammedearlier that day into New York's World Trade Center.
They staged a cabin revolt against the al-Qaida terrorists whohad taken control of their flight and died when their plane crashedinto a field in Shanksville, Pa. But they succeeded in keeping thejet from destroying another building that day, and their storybecame legend.
"I don't think people are going to sit back and let somebodykill them in the process of fulfilling their extremist agenda orwhatever it happens to be," said Dave Heffernan, who helps overseeself-defense training for commercial flight crews at ValenicaCommunity College in Orlando, Fla. "People have talked about it.They've thought about it. They have a plan of action."
On Saturday, a day after the failed attack on Northwest 253,federal prosecutors charged Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, a nativeof Nigeria, with trying to destroy the airliner with a devicecontaining a high explosive attached to his body. They alleged thatAbdulmutallab set off the device - sparking a fire instead of anexplosion - as the flight from Amsterdam descended toward DetroitMetropolitan Airport.
Schuringa, of Amsterdam, told CNN that he didn't think about hisown safety when he extinguished the fire with his hands. He andother passengers said that several people on board, includingmembers of the flight crew, then joined him in taking Mutallab tofirst class to strip off his clothes and search for any moreexplosives.
"In a matter of minutes everything was settled down. ... Thepassengers were proactive. We just did it. There was nothing totalk about," said Syed Jafry, 57.
Another passenger, Richelle Keepman, 24, of Oconomowoc, Wis.,said passengers were later interviewed by authorities and releasedfrom the airport. When Schuringa came through the area, "we wereall clapping," she said.
Schuringa joins the passengers on United 93 and others who haveleapt into action to defend themselves aloft since 9/11. Just threemonths after the attacks, Briton Richard Reid was overpowered bypassengers and crew members on a flight from Paris to Miami as hetried to ignite plastic explosives hidden in his shoes. A doctoronboard went so far as to inject the restrained Reid with asedative.
Passengers aren't only responding to obvious acts of terror. InJune, two off-duty officers handcuffed a traveler who took off hisclothes and kicked and punched a flight attendant on a US Airwaysflight to Los Angeles from Charlotte, N.C. In April 2008,passengers duct-taped a drunken man to his seat after he attacked a
United Airlines flight attendant on a trip to Los Angeles from HongKong.
"Aggressive intervention has become the new societal norm,"said Bill Voss, an expert at the Flight Safety Foundation inAlexandria, Va.
The day after the attack, authorities at airports worldwidetightened security, imposing extra searches on the ground andtelling passengers flying to the U.S. from overseas they can't getout of their seat during the last hour of their flight. None seemedto mind, and many said they knew the story of United 93 and wouldrespond aggressively if the new security measures failed.
"I know how to tackle," said Stephen Evans, 39, a former rugbyplayer traveling from Chicago to Dulles International Airport near
Washington. "Your odds are better to get the guy and risk anexplosion on the plane rather than fly into Washington's Monumentor what have you."
Jennifer Allen, 41, of Shelby Township, Mich., arrived inDetroit on Saturday from Amsterdam on Saturday's Northwest 253.
"We're not so blase, not so willing to accept that we're safeand we can let someone do our security for us," she said. "We'renot going to sit there and wait for somebody else to do it becauseif you wait, it might be too late."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun