DENVER – Authorities have charged a California man accused of assaulting an American Airlines flight attendant last week on a flight from New York City to Santa Ana, California, prompting the plane to divert to Denver and leaving the flight attendant with a concussion and injuries to her face, according to investigators.
Brian Hsu, 20, of Irvine, faces charges of interference with a flight crew and assault within a special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States. He appeared Monday in court, where a judge ordered him released on a $10,000 bond, KMGH-TV reported.
In an affidavit filed in court, investigators said Hsu is accused of attacking a woman working as a flight attendant on American Airlines flight 976. Three witnesses told authorities that they saw Hsu hit the victim outside the airplane’s lavatory. The victim and Hsu gave authorities varying accounts of what happened during the Oct. 27 flight.
The victim told investigators that she was speaking to another flight attendant when she felt something hit her in the head. When she turned to see what it was, she said she saw a passenger, identified as Hsu, who told her that he needed to use the bathroom.
The victim said she told Hsu that the lavatory was occupied and that, since the “fasten seatbelt” sign was on, he needed to return to his seat to wait for his turn. She said he then raised his arms as though he were going to stretch and brought his elbow down on her head, prompting her to get into a defensive posture, with her arms in front of her and her hands up. She said Hsu appeared to initially back down before he charged at her while flailing his arms. He appeared to back down a second time as another flight attendant attempted to intervene before charging her again, hitting her in the face with the closed fist of his right hand, she said.
The victim reported suffering a nosebleed and feeling dizzy and nauseous. A doctor later determined she had sustained a concussion. Due to swelling, the doctor was not immediately able to tell whether her nose had been fractured, according to the affidavit.
Hsu told authorities that he was stretching while waiting to use the restroom on Oct. 27 when he accidentally bumped the victim. He said that she became agitated and swung her hands at his head with her hands, scaring him because he was returning to California after undergoing surgery in Rhode Island to reconstruct portions of his skull.
He told investigators that he had been injured during an assault last year in New York which left him with psychological damage, including ringing in his ears, nausea, dizziness and loss of balance. He added that he remains sensitive to sound and that he sometimes experiences a mental “fog,” which makes it hard to think. Under the circumstances, he said he feared a blow to his head could leave him severely injured or even cause his death.
Authorities said Hsu claimed he backed up toward his seat and raised his hands defensively, with his palms facing out. He said the victim then charged at him, hitting her nose against the palm of his hand. He added that his right hand had been injured a few weeks prior to the flight, making it impossible for him to form a closed fist, authorities said.
After the victim was injured, another flight attendant pushed himself between Hsu and the victim, and Hsu said he sat back down in his seat. Other people later “restrained his legs with brown tape and his hands with plastic cuffs,” according to the affidavit.
Hsu’s mother, who was not identified in court records, told authorities that after he was assaulted in 2020, her son suffered dizziness and appeared to become more easily angered. She added that after his most recent surgery, he had trouble sitting still and often needed to stretch. She said her son hit the victim while he was stretching and that the victim got angry and “rushed toward” him, according to the affidavit.
In a videotaped statement posted last week to Instagram, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker described the incident as “one of the worst displays of unruly behavior we’ve ever witnessed.”
“Let me assure you, American Airlines will not tolerate airport or in-flight misconduct of any kind, particularly toward our crew members or airport team,” he said, adding that the airline was banning Hsu from traveling with the company again.
“We’re doing everything we can to ensure he is prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. We’re also working with the FAA, who has the authority to levy fines of up to $50,000 to disruptive passengers. This will not just end with a travel ban.”
He praised crew members for their handling of the situation and promised that the injured flight attendant and other crew members on board would “have the support they need.”
The incident happened as officials with the Federal Aviation Administration track a sharp increase in reports of unruly passengers on planes nationwide. Since Jan. 1, the agency has received more than 5,030 reports of unruly passengers and initiated 950 investigations. In 2020, officials initiated 183 investigations, up from the 146 investigations initiated one year earlier.