As a Delta Air Lines plane taxied to the runway at LaGuardia Airport on Monday, a flight attendant saw a man and woman walking through the aisle.
“I need to get off the plane. I don’t want to sit here. I’m gonna pop the door,” the flight attendant paraphrased him as saying.
The man felt he needed to leave or he would lose control, according to statements from a Tuesday arraignment hearing. He then pushed past the crew member, opened a cabin door and slid down the emergency slide with another passenger and their dog.
The man, identified as 31-year-old Antonio Murdock, and the other passenger, 23-year-old Brianna Greco, then walked away from the plane onto the taxiway. They were later found in a restricted area, authorities said.
Murdock and Greco each face charges of criminal trespass, said Lenis Valens, a spokeswoman for Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Murdock was also charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, Valens said.
As he left a Queens criminal court Tuesday, Murdock told reporters, “I just want to see my fiancee,” CNN affiliate WCBS reported.
“I panicked. I have panic attacks. That’s it. I didn’t hurt anybody,” Murdock said. “I have mental health issues.”
During the arraignment Tuesday, the flight attendant said there was no situation on the plane that necessitated Murdock to open the emergency door.
Jubril Oladiran, an attorney for Murdock, provided no comment to CNN when contacted.
CNN attempted to reach Greco for comment, and it is unclear if she has legal representation.
Casey Johnson, a Manhattan resident flying home to his family in Panama City Beach, Florida, told CNN he switched seats with the couple and their dog at the gate.
The dog is a 60-pound service animal — a greyhound named Rain, CNN affiliate WCBS reported.
Johnson said the couple was pleasant, and nothing appeared out of the ordinary to him during their interaction.
He said the man, identified by authorities as Murdock, was “soft spoken.”
Murdock asked to switch rows with Johnson, he said, so they could have the last aisle of the plane to accommodate their dog.
The plane was mostly full except for middle seats left open in line with Delta’s Covid-19 policy. Minutes later, however, the couple moved again several rows forward, Johnson said.
“I do actually remember thinking, ‘Well, you guys just asked me to swap rows with you because you wanted to be in the back, and now all of a sudden you decided you want to be forward,’ ” he said.
Johnson, who was wearing headphones as the plane taxied to the tarmac, later noticed a commotion.
“And the next thing I know, I look up while we’re moving, and I just see … I see lots of people standing up, and I see like four people running towards the front of the plane. And at this point those must have been passengers that were running to try to, like, stop the person,” Johnson said.
He said he didn’t see the couple and their dog as they jumped off the plane, but he did see the emergency exit was open at the front of the plane near the cockpit.
Johnson said the pilot told passengers over the cabin speakers that the slide had been deployed and the door was opened, but did not say that passengers had fled.
Johnson said the plane sat on the tarmac for more than an hour before returning to the gate.
After Murdock and Greco exited the plane, the aircraft returned to the gate and deplaned customers normally, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said. The airline was able to accommodate the remaining passengers on alternate flights, he said.
“Maintenance technicians have evaluated the aircraft, and (it) is scheduled to return to service,” Durrant said Monday evening.
Murdock is due back in court February 9, and Greco is scheduled to appear on March 21, the Queens District Attorney’s Office said.
Valens, the spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said the dog was taken to a Brooklyn animal shelter.
Greco was given a receipt to retrieve the dog, Valens said.