CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Officials with United Airlines said they are working with authorities after a woman reported being sexually assaulted by a man sitting next to her on a flight from New Jersey to Charlotte Tuesday night.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police told Channel 9 that the FBI was investigating the claim since the alleged incident happened in the air.
A passenger on the flight told Channel 9 that she saw a commotion in the back of the plane after the turbulent flight. She said a flight attendant warned everyone to stay seated until police boarded and escorted the suspect off the plane.
“They said, ‘Ladies and gentleman, please stay in your seats. We have not been cleared to deboard the plane until authorities arrive,’” passenger Genevieve Becker said.
Sources said a woman in her 30s reported that the man next to her put his hands between her legs and groped her, and the two were then separated by a flight attendant.
Channel 9 later learned that the 73-year-old man accused of groping the woman, who is from Lithuania, told investigators his hand fell on the woman's lap due to turbulence.
"I'm sure a woman knows the difference between a hand hitting her versus being groped," traveler Sherrell Ealy said.
This is the second such claim on a Charlotte-bound flight in the past few months, and some frequent flyers told Channel 9 it's alarming.
"I think some of these people should be checked, if they've been drinking, and not be allowed on a flight," traveler Denise Bingham said.
Data found by Channel 9 shows sexual assault cases on planes are sky-rocketing.
In the fiscal year 2014, the FBI investigated 38 cases, followed by 57 cases in 2016 and 63 in 2017 -- a 65-percent spike.
Last week, the Association of Flight Attendants called the rise in cases a “silent epidemic" and said industry leaders need to speak out with a zero-tolerance policy.
United Airlines said it is cooperating with the FBI as it investigates Tuesday's incident.
No arrests have been made.
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