Unruly passengers prompt United flight to divert to Anchorage

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2001

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- An argument between 22-year-old identical twin sisters on board a United Airline flight from San Francisco to Shanghai escalated into an assault on crew members Thursday night and the jet was diverted to Anchorage.

The FBI and airport security officers arrested Cynthia Mikula and Crystal Mikula of Buckley, Mich., when the Flight 857 touched down at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport shortly after 10 p.m. The Mikulas were charged with crimes aboard an aircraft, interfering with flight crew members.

The Boeing 747 carried 233 passengers and 22 crew members, including four pilots and 18 flight attendants, said Whitney Staley of United Airlines' media relations office.

Phillip B.J. Reid, FBI special agent in charge of Alaska, said the women began arguing about four hours into the flight. The jumbo jet had almost reached the International Date Line when the fight broke out, passengers said.

The sisters then went to the rear of the aircraft and continued arguing. A flight attendant attempted to calm the sisters down, Reid said, and Cynthia Mikula hit her in the face.

The attendant reported the incident to a captain, who walked to the rear of the aircraft and directed the sisters to return to their seats. The captain sat with the sisters to make sure there would be no further disturbances, Reid said, but Cynthia Mikula then hit the captain in the head.

When the flight crew put Cynthia Mikula in flexible handcuffs, Reid said, Crystal Mikula put another flight attendant in a choke hold.

After calming Crystal Mikula, Reid said, the crew diverted the jet to Anchorage.

Reid said the sisters screamed obscenities during the entire episode.

Friday morning the sisters were jailed and awaiting an appearance before a federal magistrate.

Staley said the airline has a zero-tolerance policy toward disruptive passenger behavior.

''United Airlines takes the issue of air rage very seriously,'' Staley said.

Flight 857 was scheduled to resume at 6 p.m. after crew members received mandatory rest. Passengers were put up in a hotel Thursday night and took a glacier tour Friday, Staley said.

Staley said she did not know the extent of crew member injuries.

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