Teen suffered deadly ‘air rage’ on flight and was killed by passenger mob
Mysteries surrounding the striking death of teen Jonathan Burton during a routine domestic flight in the US remain – even 21 years after his death.
On August 11, 2000, the 19-year-old suffered a severe air rage attack during Southwest Airlines flight 1763 from Las Vegas to Utah.
During a violent panic 6ft, 190lbs (86kg) Jonathan kicked the cockpit door open before being viciously restrained by a mob of his fellow passengers.
The situation escalated when he assaulted an off-duty police officer.
That led a gang of eight men to restrain him, standing on all parts of his body including Jonathan's neck.
He suffocated within minutes, though his cause of death was initially – wrongly – listed as a heart attack.
Yet there's still plenty unknown about the teenager's tragic demise.
Many conflicting reports dispute whether he really needed to be restrained in such a violent way.
The Guardian reported in August 2000 that Jonathan had been successfully restrained already when a man decided to keep standing on his neck, ultimately suffocating the boy.
Jonathan also had no history of mental illness of any kind.
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The small amounts of weed traced in his system were certainly not enough to trigger any such air rage incident.
It all started soon after take-off when Jonathan leapt to his feet and walked down the aisle, yelling "Everybody just sit down!"
A flight attendant asked if he was okay.
Jonathan said: "I'm fine.
"It's just the drugs."
Within a couple of hours, he was dead.
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Jonathan again jumped up and burst into the cockpit, grabbing the captain and the first mate.
That alarmed the cabin crew and the 121 passengers onboard the SWA Boeing 737 travelling the 80-minute journey from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City.
But a group of 6-8 passengers held him back and calmed him down.
They asked what he was going to do in Utah. He was visiting his aunt and uncle for a couple of weeks.
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They asked what he watched on TV the night before.
It was a documentary about air crashes.
He said his mum kissed him goodbye at the gate after taking him to the airport.
Things seemed calm again.
But within minutes Jonathan again leapt up and screamed that he could fly the plane.
Christy Gipson, a passenger sitting in front of him, told Time magazine: "He just went ballistic."
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An off-duty cop at the back of the plane offered to help, but when Jonathan punched him in the face – leading his mouth to bleed – the men became violent.
One of the men, Dean Harvey, told ABC News it was one thug in particular who caused the boy's death.
He said a burly man who weighed about 260lbs (118kg) jumped up and down on Jonathan's chest when he was already controlled.
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Dean reportedly said: "You've got the guy subdued, what more do you want?"
The man jumped twice more and then stopped. It was too late.
Harvey went back to his seat and said to his wife: “I think they’re killing him back there.”
Dean's account was not confirmed by any other passengers or airline officials, leading to more doubt about what happened on the fateful flight.
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When the plane landed at around 11.15pm, he was still alive. Just.
Officers found him lying on the floor still breathing, with blood pouring out of his mouth and severe greyness in his face.
They handcuffed Jonathan while he lay still as passengers continued to warn he would become violent when he came to.
Paramedics looked after injured passengers he'd thrown his fists at and took Jonathan to hospital, where he died around midnight.
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Jonathan's mum sued the airline for negligence and for allowing mob rule to cause his son's death.
The cabin crew did all they could, SWA said.
Janet Burton wasn't convinced.
She told ABC in 2006 during pre-trial litigation: “I can appreciate the fact of passengers being scared.
"If I’d been a passenger, I would have been scared.
"That wasn't Jonathan. It’s just nothing like Jonathan. He would never go looking for a fight.
"But Jonathan needed to be safely restrained. He should have been in a Salt Lake City jail if he caused a problem on that plane.
"They had no right to be judge, jury and executioner."
Though Jonathan's untimely death was ultimately ruled a murder, lawyers for the US government refused to press charges.
They argued the passengers acted in self-defense and didn't mean to kill him.
That was no help to Janet, who on the 21st anniversary of her son's death must continue to mourn Jonathan – without ever quite knowing how it all happened.
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