Peabody grad helped subdue passenger on flight | News

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PEABODY — A routine flight home to Boston turned into a heroic moment for Peabody native Jeff Neil.

Neil, a 1988 graduate of Peabody Veterans Memorial High School who now lives in Exeter, N.H., was on a flight from Los Angeles to Boston with his wife, Libby, on March 5 when a rambling passenger threatened to crash the plane.

“He just seemed like a person who was anxious about flying,” Neil said. “You wouldn’t have immediately said that he would end up doing what he was doing.”

The United Airlines flight was 45 minutes out from landing in Boston when a flight attendant asked the passenger, Francisco Torres, 32, of Leominster, if he had tampered with an emergency exit door on the plane.

“Immediately, Mr. Torres went from zero to 60,” Neil said.

Video footage captured by another passenger shows Torres standing and shouting that there would be “a bloodbath,” that he will have to be shot down by a SWAT team, and that he was Balthazar before he pulled out a broken spoon and headed for the emergency door.

Neil, a former bouncer now works for a software company in the pharmaceutical industry, was one of the first passengers to jump up to help, and was seen in the video approaching Torres as he approached the door.

He didn’t know that Torres had the broken spoon — just that Torres was clearly willing to kill all the passengers on the plane, he said.

“It was a very intense moment,” Torres said. “When he stepped in the aisle, it literally was right in front of me and I stood up to get between him and my wife and it went on from there.”

Neil ran up behind Torres and grabbed him. By that point, at least six or seven other passengers were behind Neil.

They got Torres to the ground and zip-tied his arms and legs so he couldn’t move, and sat with him to make sure he couldn’t get up for the remainder of the flight.

State Police removed Torres from the plane once it landed at Logan Airport in Boston. He was subsequently transferred into FBI custody because the incident happened mid-flight, State Police said in a statement, and has since been ordered by a judge to undergo a mental health evaluation, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported.

The incident was a high-stress moment for passengers. But they came together to help in any way they could, Neil said. Some people tried to calmly talk Torres down before he headed toward the door. A woman comforted Neil’s wife while he subdued Torres.

“Everyone brought a level of humanity,” Neil said. “I may have been the first person to stand up since I was the closest to him, but there were many people involved that helped secure him. That’s just as important as anything else.”

Peabody resident Sandi Drover has known Neil since they met in a leadership advisory group for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Peabody 20 years ago. She said she wasn’t surprised when she heard what he’d done.

“Jeff was always the voice of reason in any conflict or heated discussion. He’s soft spoken, considerate of people’s differing opinions and very intelligent,” Drover said.

She called him a caring and loving father who is an amazing role model, and “someone you would want in your corner, no matter the situation,” she said.

“I cannot imagine someone better to be seated behind a person having such a troubled moment in his life to protect his wife, the airline staff and the people around him,” Drover said. “It would come as no surprise to anyone who knows Jeff that he would take action.”

Contact Caroline Enos at{/em} and follow her on Twitter @CarolineEnos.

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