Couple says flight attendants did little to prevent melee

LAS VEGAS (NBC/WXIA) - From their back porch on Hilton Head Island, SC, Michael and Karen Sileck reminisce about the family trip to Las Vegas they'd been planning for years.

"A great time," Michael said. "A great time. We had a really good time, won a little money gambling, lost a little money gambling."

The Sileck family boarded Delta flight 1720 in Las Vegas with the ease of regular travelers.

Minutes before takeoff, 60-year-old Atlanta resident Richard Garber took the window seat beside them in the emergency row.

"I knew right away, I told him, something's wrong with this guy," Karen said. "He was muttering and chanting. His appearance was disheveled."

After a first trying to ignore their fellow passenger and then asking him to quiet down, the Silecks said they were not the only passengers to report Garber's strange behavior.

Garber grabbed Karen's upper thigh. "He looked at me with the weirdest eyes and he said, 'Are you ready? I'm ready. I love you,'" Karen said. "I just started shaking and I automatically hit the flight attendant button. She said to keep his hands to himself and that there was nowhere else on the plane for him to sit him and he was going to have to behave himself."

Karen and Michael switched seats, but they say Garber just became more agitated.

The Silecks say since Garber stepped on the flight, he would periodically grab the emergency row instruction pamphlet and "look at it intensely."

Passengers behind the Silecks let the couple know they were watching the situation. One passenger said he was a retired marine and the other was an active marine.

Michael had just unwrapped a sandwich when he says Garber made his move.

"He reached for the exit row, the handle, and I grabbed him and I said: 'No you can't!'" Michael recalled. Other passengers jumped up to help the Silecks.

Garber is still in Las Vegas, banned from flying until his case is resolved.

FBI Special Agent Patrick Turner says Garber is charged with crimes aboard an aircraft and interfering with a flight crew.

He had his initial appearance in U.S. Magistrate Court Monday and was released. His next court date is Nov. 14.

Garber spoke with WXIA about the incident.

He said he went to Vegas around noon on Friday, and had not had any sleep or food between then and Sunday's flight.

Garber said he was originally supposed to fly back Monday, but had to return home early.

He said the "little episode" was an accumulation of no sleep and no food, and that he wasn't drinking or doing illegal drugs, but was on several prescription medications.

Garber said he spent his time in Vegas gambling and he was at the craps table where "every single thing was going right."

He couldn't remember what he said that upset his fellow passengers, and that when he stood up he accidentally hit the emergency door.

"Absolutely not," the Silecks said in unison when they heard that.

"He did it twice! The second time, grabbed it again and actually pulled it off, broke the cover off," Michael said.

The Silecks say they have some serious concerns about the way Delta flight attendants handled the situation.

Even though they say Garber was clearly "out of it" from the beginning, they allowed him to sit in an exit row.

They don't feel the flight attendants took action when passengers complained about his odd behavior, and they were upset he was not restrained when the flight was finally turned back to Las Vegas.

"I think the flight attendants need to be better informed on how to handle the situation," Karen said.

Delta said they could not do into details about their security and safety protocols, but say their crews do go through extensive, yearly training.

They said this indecent is under review. They're talking to crew and passengers to determine exactly what happened and if the crew acted appropriately.

Delta points out the company also received positive feedback from passengers on flight 1720.

The Silecks also heard those positive reports, picked up initially by several media outlets.

"Those were people sitting way in the front, or way in the back. They didn't see what was happening. We were there from the very beginning. We saw the lack of action," Michael said.

Copyright 2011 NBC via WXIA. All rights reserved.