Former Marlborough resident helps divert real-life disaster

Marlborough – Growing up in Marlborough and playing soccer for the Panthers, Mike Burns relied on his instincts on the soccer pitch to help him be in the right place at the right time.

Burns used those timehoned instincts again July 18, this time to help prevent a tragedy that could have killed more than 100 people.

Burns, the vice president of player personnel for major league soccer's New England Revolution, was one of four men who helped subdue a fellow passenger on the flight the Revolution took from Boston to Los Angeles for a game it played Sunday night.

"You could just tell something wasn't right with the guy," Burns told Mike Adams of Boston radio station WEEI (850-AM) in a telephone interview just hours after the incident. "He had this weird smile and he was talking to himself."

The mid-air drama began at about 2 p.m., an hour into the cross-country flight. Burns told Adams that the man, sitting right in front of him, got up and went to use the restroom. The man was in there for an extended period, Burns noticed, and when he came out he was naked.

"We thought he was a streaker," Burns said, referring to himself and Revolution General Manager Craig Tornberg. "We thought it was some kind of crazy stunt. We've certainly seen a lot of that being involved in soccer, especially international soccer for all these years, but this was diff erent – there were a lot of women and children on this flight."

Burns told Adams that Tornberg asked the man to get dressed, but that the man responded, "I don't hear you, I don't see you."

Tornberg then notified flight attendants of what was happening; they came over and covered the man with a blanket. About 15 minutes after that, Burns said, the man got up, went back to the restroom, got dressed and returned to his seat.

"Then, about 15 minutes after that," Burns told Adams, "he got up again and started to walk toward the bathroom again, but then he took an immediate left, went to the emergency exit, put one hand on the latch and one hand on the door.

"At that point, with a guy in the row behind me yelling, 'no, no, no,' Craig and I and Gwynne Williams, our goalie coach, got up, rushed over to the guy and pulled him away from the door," Burns told Adams. "We pushed him down in his seat and the flight attendants used those zip ties to bind his wrists and ankles."

The plane was diverted to Oklahoma City where it made an emergency landing and the man was removed. Burns said he, Tornberg and Williams were all required to write incident statements for the FBI before the plane could resume its course to Los Angeles. Burns said the delay lasted about an hour.

"Hey, no clothes, as bizarre as that sounds, is one thing," Burns told Adams. "But grabbing the exit door changed everything. Now you're talking about the lives of everyone on that plane."

There were 151 passengers and seven crewmembers on the flight.

"In a situation like that you don't think," Burns told Adams, "you just react."

Short URL: http://www.communityadvocate.com/?p=3003

Posted by on Jul 25 2008. Filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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