Just last week, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking warned about the existence of extraterrestrials, but it’s unlikely he had Matthew Kleindorfer in mind.
A SkyWest flight headed from Helena to Salt Lake City had to be diverted to Idaho Falls Sunday evening after Kleindorfer allegedly began banging on the cockpit door, saying he was a space alien and that he wanted to fly the plane.
A flight attendant along with passengers restrained Kleindorfer, 32, of Las Vegas until the plane landed just before 6 p.m., according to Idaho Falls police.
The captain made the decision to divert the 50-passenger plane, flying at 29,000 feet about 60 miles north of Idaho Falls, police Sgt. Phil Grimes said.
A SkyWest spokeswoman said the plane was fully booked.
Keith Millburn was on his way home to California after visiting his family in Helena.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.
Kleindorfer talked with the flight attendant about 20 minutes into the flight and then pushed him to the side, Millburn said.
“He was trying to force his way in,” he added.
The flight attendant then yelled at the passengers for help. Millburn said before he was able to undo his seatbelt, another man had controlled the situation.
“The big cowboy came up and grabbed him,” Millburn said. “That cowboy saved the day for sure.”
The cowboy, Clay Cooper, a seven-time world champion in professional rodeo, said he grabbed Kleindorfer, put him in an empty seat and told him to stay put.
“I could tell something didn’t look quite right. I was getting a little bit concerned,” Cooper said.
The next thing Cooper knew, the plane had landed.
“It was kind of a different flight,” added Cooper, who was flying to his home in Stephenville, Texas, after teaching a roping course in Helena.
Kleindorfer, who was loud and disruptive as police took him into custody, kicked an officer twice, Grimes said. He faces a felony charge of battery on an officer in addition to misdemeanor counts of disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.
Additional charges pertaining to his actions on the plane are pending, Grimes said.
He was in jail Monday afternoon in lieu of a $20,000 bond.
The FBI requested that Kleindorfer’s blood be drawn for a toxicology test, Grimes said. Police reports listed no indications that he was using drugs or alcohol.
According to Grimes, Kleindorfer was visiting a friend in Helena when he began acting bizarre. The friend was concerned and decided to fly back to Kleindorfer’s home in Las Vegas with him.
Police declined to release the friend’s name.
“The friend was basically escorting him home,” Grimes said.
The friend, who was not sitting next to Kleindorfer, told police he slept through the confrontation on the plane.
The flight, a Delta connection operated by SkyWest Airlines, then continued to Salt Lake City without further incident — from extraterrestrials or humans.
Reporter Angela Brandt: 447-4078 or firstname.lastname@example.org