A man suffering a panic attack tried to open the door of a British Airways flight to Saudi Arabia in midair but was stopped by fellow passengers, including the brother of the boxer Dillian Whyte.
The incident occurred on Monday night about an hour before BA flight 263 from Heathrow to Riyadh was due to land in the Saudi capital.
Without warning a clearly agitated man started trying to pull the lever on the door at the back of the plane while screaming “I want to get out” in broken English.
Another passenger, Ian McNally, quickly spotted what was happening and tried to intervene. Shortly afterwards the 6ft 7in Dean Whyte, who was sat in a nearby seat in economy, was alerted to the commotion and rushed down the aisle to assist – along with other members of the fighter’s entourage and an air steward.
Whyte was able to grab the man in a bearhug and pull him away from the door, while repeatedly telling him: “Calm down, bruv.”
At that point half a dozen more air stewards, one carrying handcuffs, rushed down the plane to help. Finally after a few minutes of angry pointing and shouting from the passenger, he calmed down and was brought back to his seat.
Whyte was travelling to Saudi Arabia to support his brother, who is fighting on the undercard of the Andy Ruiz Jr v Anthony Joshua heavyweight title fight on Saturday night.
Joshua’s mother Yeta Odusanya was also on the plane, along with several members of staff for Matchroom Sport, who are promoting the fight.
A clearly shaken McNally later confirmed to the Guardian that he had given a statement to the flight crew, and praised the efforts of Whyte. “I was mightily relieved when I saw him rushing to help,” he added.
Another who witnessed the incident but did not want to be named said he was frozen in panic as the incident unfolded. “I thought that was it,” he said. “Everyone who intervened were heroes.”
Whyte told the Guardian: “It was like something out of a movie. When I got there he was shouting ‘I want to get out’ in broken English. I managed to grab him and was preparing to slam him hard if necessary but myself and the steward could see he wasn’t quite right in the head so I held him and tried to calm him down. Eventually it worked.”
A British Airways flight attendant confirmed to the Guardian that the incident had been reported to the authorities. “I have never seen anything like that before,” he added.
The airline said it was impossible for an aircraft door to open in flight. A spokesperson said: “Our cabin crew cared for a customer who suffered from a panic attack during the flight. We are sorry for any concern this caused our customers.”