A controversial decision by a United Airlines pilot to make an emergency landing to remove a family because their autistic daughter was being "disruptive" has received support from at least one passenger onboard.
The airline has so far refused to apologise over the May 5 incident which saw Dr Donna Beegle, her husband, son and their 15-year-old daughter Juliette removed during an emergency stop in Salt Lake City as they flew on a connecting flight from Houston to Portland.
Now passenger Marilyn Hedlund has spoken out to voice her support for the airline which is being threatened with a discrimination lawsuit by Beegle.
Hedlund told KOIN6 that the 15-year-old girl wasn't removed because she has autism but because her behavior threatened the safety of everyone onboard the plane.
'She wasn't put off the plane because she had autism, she was put off the plane because she was maybe proposing some kind of a threat, to (about) 170 other people at 36,000 feet, which doesn't make anyone feel safe,' Hedlund said.
'What if she got crazy and got up and opened an exit door at 36,000 feet?'
She praised the flight attendants for how they had been working quietly with the family for nearly an hour before the pilot made the decision to make an emergency landing.
'There was a lot of howling, and we thought well, what's going on? And it never stopped,' Hedlund said.
The Oregon family were on their way back from Disney World when they were unceremoniously removed from the airplane.
The incident escalated after Juliette Forbes refused the food that her family had brought along.
Her mother asked if she could buy a hot meal from First Class for her daughter as she feared Juliette would 'get to the meltdown point' and maybe scratch someone.
Cell phone footage of the family being removed from the plane shows Juleitte behaving herself and begs the question if such an extreme reaction by the pilot was really meritted.
The footage, taken by Chris Hall, shows Juilette quickly complying with the request. Hall can be heard saying, 'This is ridiculous,' and agreeing with someone who said a lawsuit was likely to follow.
'The child would make noise every now and then, no louder than, say, a baby crying,' said Hall. 'I don't think they should have landed a plane for her being fussy.'
A spokesperson for United told the local TV station that it had done everyone it could to defuse the situation.
'After working to accommodate Dr. Beegle and her daughter during the flight, the crew made the best decision for the safety and comfort of all of our customers and elected to divert to Salt Lake City after the situation became disruptive,' said spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm.
We rebooked the customers on a different carrier and the flight continued to Portland.'
Juliette's mother rubbished claims by passenger Hedlund that her daughter posied a security risk.
'We have to define disruption. Is her getting agitated and making sounds a threat?'
She added her daughter could not have opened an exit door. 'She would have had to go through her Dad. He had the middle seat. She's a 15-year-old girl.'
Before leaving the plane, Beegle said she made police take statements from the other passengers. She said one officer told her, 'You have a lot of people on your side saying this was not an issue.'
She has contacted an attorney and will likely file a lawsuit. She said it's not about the money, it's about providing training for people and dispelling fear about autism.
Dr Beegle says that the Tigard, Oregon, family, was escorted off the plane by police thirty minutes later.
'Well, the captain doesn't feel comfortable flying to Portland with your daughter on the plane,' Dr Beegle was told as she was taken off the plane Tuesday.
Juliette, who is high-functioning but has difficulty communicating, had calmed down by the time the plane made its emergency landing in Utah, according to KOIN.
Dr Beegle, who heads up an anti-poverty organization, is good at anticipating her daughter's moods and had requested the food so that her 15-year-old didn't become upset and possibly scratch someone.
She and Juliette had previously traveled all over the world to her speaking engagements before the family, including Juliette's brother and father, were all booted from the United flight.
The mother says that the captain never checked to see if the situation had improved after her daughter had food.
Juliette, who was sitting in a window seat, soon began watching a video, and other passengers said they did not feel threatened by the girl's behavior.
A YouTube video taken by a fellow passenger and given to KOIN shows a calm aircraft on the ground in Salt Lake City, with the Beegle family, including Juliette, calmly shuffling out of their seats.
'That's ridiculous,' a man on the plane says.
'That's gonna be a lawsuit,' another adds.
Her mother said that their treatment was prompted by the 'fear of autism'.
- Daily Mail