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Pilot gets trapped in plane's bathroom, causes midair scare

November 17, 2011 | 12:12 pm

LaGuardia

A pilot’s trip to the toilet set off a turbulent few minutes aboard a New York City-bound flight on Wednesday.

During an 18-passenger Chautauqua Airlines flight from Ashville, N.C., to LaGuardia Airport, the pilot stepped out of the cockpit to take a bathroom break before landing.

In order to adhere to security protocols, which require two people in the cockpit at all times, the only flight attendant on board entered the flight deck as the pilot exited, said Peter Kowalchuk, a spokesman for the airline in a statement.

Presumably after relieving himself, the pilot tried to return to the cockpit to land the plane — which was in a holding pattern above the airport — but his attempt was thwarted by a broken door latch.

He was trapped in the bathroom.

The pilot pounded on the door to attract attention and told a passenger to alert the co-pilot of his predicament.

The co-pilot, however, apparently did not welcome the stranger attempting to access the cockpit and radioed air-traffic control.

"The captain disappeared in the back," the co-pilot can be heard saying on an audiotape obtained by the New York Post. "Uh... and I have someone with a thick foreign accent trying to access the cockpit. I gotta deal with the situation."

The passenger then explained that the pilot was stuck in the bathroom.

“What I’m being told is he’s stuck in the lav [lavatory], and, uh, someone with a thick foreign accent is giving me a password to access the cockpit,” he said.  “I’m not about to let him in.”

The controller told the pilot to declare an emergency and “just get on the ground."

After checking the status of the passenger cabin through a peephole, the flight attendant exited the cockpit and helped the pilot free himself from the bathroom, Kowalchuk said.

After he explained his ordeal, the pilot landed the plane.

Fighter pilots were alerted, but were never sent to intercept the plane.

The aircraft was met by officials from the FBI and the Port Authority, who spoke to the passenger and realized it was just a misunderstanding, the New York Post reported.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

Photo: Air-traffic controllers work the evening shift at LaGuardia Airport in 2000. Credit: Moises Saman / Newsday

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