Associated Press photographer Hussein Malla was on the flight Friday and says several passengers stopped the man in the Boeing 737-900's business class section. Flight attendants calmed the man down after about 15 minutes and he was taken back to a seat as the plane continued toward Khartoum. Flight attendants said the man was complaining about not being able to breathe.
After about 2½ hours, the pilots announced the plane was returning to Istanbul. A few minutes later, the man suddenly stood up and headed toward the front of the plane, where others grabbed him and tried to shackle him with plastic restraints provided by flight attendants but he resisted.
Passengers were yelling in fear and children were crying.
The plane landed back in Istanbul about three hours after it took off and police escorted the man off. As he departed, he shook hands with some passengers and kissed some children.
A Turkish Airlines official on Saturday confirmed Malla's account, saying a 35-year-old Sudanese man on Flight TK680 from Istanbul to Khartoum displayed aggressive behavior, causing damage to the plane and physically and verbally harming other passengers.
He said the airline was forced to apply "inadmissible passenger" procedures to prevent further harm to passengers and ensure flight safety, which meant that the plane was diverted back to Istanbul and had to circle in the air to reduce fuel before landing.
It was not clear if the man, who was in police custody, was psychologically disturbed, the official said. He spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
He said the airline will decide later whether to file a legal complaint against the passenger.
Hussein Malla reported from Istanbul and Khartoum.
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