DENVER — An American Airlines flight heading to California had to land in Denver on Wednesday after a passenger allegedly physically assaulted a flight attendant, the airline confirmed.
American Airlines flight 976 took off from New York and was scheduled to land in Santa Ana, according to American. At some point during the flight, a flight attendant was physically assaulted and the aircraft had to be diverted to the Denver International Airport, the airline said.
The plane was able to safely taxi to the gate, and law enforcement took the passenger into custody.
According to details obtained by ABC News from a source familiar with the investigation, it was an unprovoked attack.
The source said that the flight attendant accidentally bumped the first class passenger earlier in the flight and apologized. Later on, the suspect walked to the galley area, punched the attendant twice and return to his seat, the source said.
"We are outraged by the reports of what took place on board. Acts of violence against our team members are not tolerated by American Airlines," the airline said in a statement.
American said it's working to provide support to the flight attendant and is working with FBI and plans to pursue prosecution.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado confirmed it was investigating the incident along with the FBI.
“The United States Attorney’s Office takes seriously all matters involving potential threats to the safety of airline flights, crew or passengers,” the office said in a statement.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants said Thursday the flight attendant was on her way home after being released from the hospital Thursday. The union, which represents more than 24,000 American Airlines flight attendants, called the incident "another outrageous attack on flight attendants," and said it's working to ensure she and the rest of the crew receives any needed support.
The passenger involved in the incident will not be allowed to travel with the airline in the future, American said. The APFA said the FAA and the Department of Transportation needs to implement a national 'No-Fly' list that encompasses all airlines.
"We need more police in airports, increased fines for egregious behavior and stronger, enforceable criminal penalties," a statement from the APFA said, in part.
One passenger, Mackenzie Rose of California, told ABC News that she believed the attendant was punched twice.
"I did see her walk back down the aisle afterwards. She had blood splattered on the outside of her mask," she said. "'If you're not prepared to wear a mask, you're not prepared to fly' is kind of the moral of the story. That's why he was angered... There was an impression that there might be a substance or alcohol involved. In terms of men hitting women, it's absolutely absurd and ridiculous."
The incident comes amid a spike in unruly passengers, with thousands of reports filed to the FAA in 2021.
DIA has seen its own issues this year, with one passenger charged for biting two TSA agents, another accused of attacking a Southwest Airlines employee inside the concourse train and another arrested and federally charged after he allegedly refused to wear a mask and urinated in his seat.
The TSA recently rebooted its flight attendant self-defense programs to help train for responding to unruly passengers.