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Action aboard airplane creates a reluctant hero

By Tony Rizzo, McClatchy Newspapers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A man foaming at the mouth lunged for the airliner’s cabin door, attempting to open it as flight attendants struggled to hold him at bay.

Most of the post-Thanksgiving travelers cruising at 30,000 feet toward Kansas City that day were unaware of the potential disaster looming at the front of the plane.

But when a crew member came on the intercom asking if anyone had medical training, passenger Jabir Hazziez Jr. heard the sense of concern in her voice.

What happened next came as no surprise to those who know and work with Hazziez, a Kansas City firefighter, reserve Jackson County deputy and member of the U.S. Naval Reserve.

As Hazziez walked toward the front of the plane, he saw a man pacing and holding his head in his hands. The man appeared to be in an “altered mental state” and clearly appeared agitated.

“He was trying to get to the door of the plane,” Hazziez recalled recently. “I grabbed a hold of him and tried to calm him down.”

But the man only became more combative and knocked Hazziez into the cockpit door.

Using his law enforcement training, Hazziez put the man in a neck restraint and took him to the floor. The man continued kicking and trying to reach the door with his feet. Another passenger grabbed the man’s legs.

Together they held him for about 15 or 20 minutes until the plane, which had taken off in Atlanta, made an emergency landing in Memphis and authorities came on board to deal with the man. Later, Hazziez learned the man had an adverse reaction to a vaccine.

I’m glad it was a medical situation and not a criminal incident,” Hazziez said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

When the flight resumed, Hazziez was showered with thanks from his fellow passengers and received a standing ovation before leaving the plane after that Nov. 30 flight.

Although Hazziez’s religious faith didn’t matter to those grateful passengers, it has become an important aspect of his story.

He is a Muslim. And like others of his faith, he is sensitive to the negative perceptions and prejudices of some in the post-9/11 world. But he says what he did that day was in keeping with the teachings of Islam.

“We are supposed to help those in need and protect and help those who can’t help themselves,” he said.

The Midland Islamic Council praised Hazziez for enhancing the image of American Muslims and helping to “affirm the many valuable and useful contributions they make to our nation.”

The accolades have continued, including a resolution from the Kansas City Council and Mayor Sly James honoring Hazziez for his “heroic actions.”

Hazziez said he has been humbled by the attention and praise.

“I have a hard time calling myself a hero,” he said. “I just reacted to the situation.”

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