Passenger assaulted flight attendant who helped nurse try to give him Narcan, feds say

A scream heard from the bathroom of an Alaska Airlines flight came from a man who federal prosecutors said became violent once a nurse tried to help — leading to a bloody and chaotic scene.

Now, the man, a 38-year-old Minnesota resident, has been sentenced to five years of probation for assaulting a flight attendant and interfering with a flight crew’s normal duties, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska announced May 23.

A federal defender appointed to represent him, Samuel Eilers, declined a request for comment from McClatchy News on May 24.

Following the man’s screams from the bathroom on the flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage on June 24, he stepped out and a flight attendant smelled a “strange, burnt, metallic” scent, according to court documents.

Then, he shakily headed toward his seat, but walked past it, and became unresponsive, court documents say. After a nurse on the plane checked on him and believed he was overdosing, a flight attendant grabbed the opioid reversal medication Narcan, according to prosecutors.

The man became alert as the nurse tried to give him the medicine with the help of the flight crew and a male passenger, prosecutors said.

He began to “violently struggle” when the nurse placed the Narcan in his nose and fought against those trying to help, resulting in flight attendants restraining his arms and a passenger restraining his legs, according to a sentencing memorandum.

Then, the man grabbed or pushed the flight attendant who retrieved the Narcan by her throat and her necklace broke, prosecutors said.

By the time two more passengers joined to help, his nose and mouth were bleeding, according to the sentencing memo.

“Several of the flight attendants and passengers came into contact with Burch’s blood, including one passenger who got some in his mouth,” prosecutors said.

The nurse gave him two doses of Narcan, but he kept trying to break away, according to the sentencing memo.

As a result, the flight attendant, who he’s accused of assaulting, secured his ankles and wrists in flex-cuffs, prosecutors said.

“We are extremely thankful to our crew members on board Alaska Airlines Flight 183 on June 24, 2023, who kept other passengers safe and calm during a troubling situation,” an Alaska Airlines spokesperson told McClatchy News on May 24.

Passenger arrested twice

When the flight arrived in Anchorage, the man was arrested and spent six days detained in federal custody, according to prosecutors.

“Upon his return to Minnesota, he was arrested and held in state custody for 72 days for violating his state parole by leaving the state without permission,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said in the release.

After entering a guilty plea in December, he violated the conditions of his pretrial release in March, resulting in another arrest, prosecutors said.

He was detained since then and served 66 days in federal custody, according to prosecutors.

‘Not proud’

The man had a history of “crippling drug addiction,” which “intensified” after his arrest in the case, Eilers wrote in a sentencing memorandum on his client’s behalf.

He was flying to Alaska with his stepson for a fishing trip that they both had planned “for over a year,” according to Eilers.

Two hours after the flight took off, “he smoked a syntheitic opiate” in the plane’s bathroom, the sentencing memo says.

Ahead of sentencing, he completed a 45-day out-patient treatment program, Eilers wrote in the sentencing memo.

In a March 22 letter to a federal judge, the man wrote:

“I fully acknowledge my role in the events that led to these charges. I am not proud of what I’ve done, my drug use, and the impact it has had on other people.”

When an assault happens on a plane, the FBI is in charge of investigating.

“Criminal conduct aboard an aircraft, such as interference with a flight crew, jeopardizes the safety of all passengers and is a federal crime,” Rebecca Day, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Anchorage field office, said in a statement.

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