Oliver Minatel, a 22-year-old player from Brazil, was attacked from behind, he says
Witnesses say suspect tried to choke him with the cord from his headphones
Team says forward is OK, will play Saturday night; suspect was taken for evaluation
A passenger on an Atlanta-bound Air Canada flight told a CNN reporter on the plane Friday that a stranger sitting behind him tried to choke him.
Oliver Minatel, 22, said he was sleeping on Air Canada Flight 8623 from Toronto when he felt something around his neck.
“With a rope, something that he has, he just jumped on me. That’s what happened,” Minatel told CNN’s Paula Newton moments after the incident. She was seated four rows behind Minatel, a professional soccer player traveling with his team.
The incident occurred about a half-hour before the flight landed, after the pilots had begun their descent.
“I forced it (the cord) down and then other people came to help, and then I got out and he started saying that we were here to kill him,” Minatel said.
The man was not restrained for the rest of the trip, but the flight crew told him to stay seated with his seat belt on. The man kept trying to get out of his seat but other passengers yelled at him whenever he tried to stand up.
The two-hour flight landed at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport at about 4:30 p.m. where it was met by U.S. authorities. The suspect was escorted off the plane.
An FBI spokesman confirmed the agency responded to the incident.
“The passenger, however, was transported for medical/mental evaluation under the direction and coordination of the Atlanta Police Department,” Special Agent Stephen Emmett said. “While there are currently no federal charges pending, the facts of the matter are being relayed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta.”
Minatel, a forward from Brazil, was traveling with his teammates from the Ottawa Fury Football Club of the second-division North American Soccer League. They are scheduled to play the Atlanta Silverbacks on Saturday.
“We’re very thankful to everyone who came to the aid of Oliver and relieved that he’s O.K. and ready to play in our game,” Fury FC Head Coach Marc Dos Santos said in a statement posted on the team’s website.
Several witnesses said they saw the suspect try to choke Minatel with the cord of his headphones.
Kevin Kerr says he was seated next to the suspect.
“He was talking about how this soccer team was trying to kill him. I thought he was maybe a deranged fan,” said Kerr.
Kerr said he fell asleep and he awakened to see the suspect trying to choke Minatel.
“I assisted to make sure that didn’t happen,” Kerr said.
The Canadian businessman said he and members of the soccer team kept a close eye on the suspect as the plane landed to make sure he did not threaten other passengers.