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A mum feared her family were going to die when a passenger on board their TUI flight tried to open the plane door, saying he would ‘see them all in heaven’.
The mum of two said a man who was clearly ‘intoxicated’ became ‘highly aggressive and threatening’, and started trying to open the emergency doors while praying loudly on the floor – encouraging others to also ‘start praying’.
Brown claimed terrified passengers were scrambling over seats, running to the back of the plane and grabbing their children as they screamed, ‘Help, we’re going to die’.
As passengers helped restrain the man, the pilot performed an emergency landing in Zagreb, Croatia, with TUI confirming a ‘very disruptive’ traveller meant the flight was ‘forced to divert’ so that he could be met by police.
Brown, a waitress from Bolton, Greater Manchester, said: "I honestly thought I was going to die and that I'd never see my family or children again. And I'm not the only person that thought it.
"It was awful, there were so many women screaming and shouting for help and screaming 'oh my God my kids'. All the kids were crying and screaming on the plane.
"It was terrifying. I think I've done all my crying now, I can't cry any more."
Brown’s flight was due to depart from Paphos on 14 August, but was delayed overnight due to knock-on operational disruption, as the crew were outside of their mandatory working hours.
After being rescheduled to 15 August, the flight eventually departed just after 8.00pm.
Brown was due to arrive back in Manchester in the early hours of Tuesday 16 August, but claims she was left by TUI for 'at least seven hours' without any food or emergency accommodation, saying her 'traumatised' children were forced to sleep on the cold floor.
She has since been sent to a hotel ahead of being able to board the next flight home.
Brown continued: "When we were queuing to get on the plane and a couple of passengers were talking about a passenger queuing up who was quite rowdy and acting very strangely, I questioned it but they didn't tell me anything, they were like 'oh it doesn't matter, we'll be fine, let's all get on the plane'.
"We all got on the plane and he was acting quite strange and I was already scared before this [incident] had happened.
"We took off and two and a half hours into the flight he kept getting out of his seat constantly, walking up and down the aisles and disappearing into the toilet.
"He was being disruptive on the plane and making people quite agitated and scared.
"My daughter was getting really worked up and upset because we could tell he was intoxicated, definitely as he was swaying and stuff like that.
"An air stewardess came to us and said 'we're having difficulty with a passenger on the plane, he's making threats [that threatened our safety]'.
"That was it then, everyone started getting really upset and panicked."
Brown said the man became ‘really aggressive' with flight attendants and would only speak to one directly.
He then suddenly ‘jumped up in the middle of the plane near the emergency exit’ and made ‘hand signals to everybody’.
Brown claimed he began ‘praying really loudly in another language’, adding: "In English he was saying stuff like, 'everybody needs to start praying, I'll see you all in heaven'.
"He was trying the emergency exit doors to try and get out the plane and everybody started screaming and shouting 'help, we're going to die'.
"It was like he wanted to kill us all, it was absolutely terrifying.”
As everyone scrambled to the back of the plane, a man ‘jumped up and punched him’ in the back of the head’, before others ran over and helped restrain him.
Two off-duty police officers who happened to be on the plane also ran up and ‘basically barricaded him into a seat’ until they landed.
"And the pilot did a really fast descend to a Croatian airport,” Brown said.
“We were literally falling out of the sky, it was really traumatic.
"When we got off the plane we got taken into the airport and just got left there. There was no TUI representatives, the airport was just kind of closed.”
A TUI spokesperson said: "We’re very sorry to all customers impacted by the delay to TOM2731 and subsequent diversion due to a disruptive passenger.
"Unfortunately due to on-going disruption with the aviation ecosystem, the original flight was delayed overnight as crew had reached their regulated hours. Our TUI reps supported customers throughout and the airport and the flight departed on Monday 15th August, in the evening.
"The health and safety of our customers and crew is always our highest priority and due to a disruptive passenger the flight was forced to divert to Zagreb, Croatia. The passenger was offloaded, was met by Police will not travel with TUI when the flight departs later today. We take a zero-tolerance approach to disruptive behaviour on our flights.
"We understand how frustrating this additional delay will be for our customers and apologise for the on-going delay they now face. We have a TUI team supporting customers in Croatia, we have kept them updated with regular communication, have sourced accommodation and provided meals and refreshments.
"We thank customers for their understanding and patience and would like to reassure customers that instances like this are extremely rare."