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Frontier passenger recounts box cutter incident on flight to Tampa

Authorities have confirmed that the man found with a box cutter on a plane from Cincinnati to Tampa is William Allen Liebisch.
Frontier Airlines planes sit on the tarmac at Tampa International Airport on Monday, April 4, 2022 in Tampa. A Frontier flight from Cincinnati to Tampa was rerouted after a man was found with a box cutter on the flight.
Frontier Airlines planes sit on the tarmac at Tampa International Airport on Monday, April 4, 2022 in Tampa. A Frontier flight from Cincinnati to Tampa was rerouted after a man was found with a box cutter on the flight. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Nov. 15

Larry Cumberbatch was just trying to visit his son in Tampa.

A resident of Dayton, Ohio, Cumberbatch hopped on a plane Saturday night headed from Cincinnati to Tampa to celebrate his son’s birthday. But that flight was soon rerouted after one of the other passengers was found with a box cutter.

Cumberbatch, 45, was one of two ex-military people on the plane who were asked to keep an eye on the man, who an FBI spokesperson on Tuesday publicly identified as William Allen Liebisch.

Larry Cumberbatch, 45, in a PhD graduation ceremony. Cumberbatch helped monitor a passenger who was found with a box cutter on a plane from Cincinnati to Tampa.
Larry Cumberbatch, 45, in a PhD graduation ceremony. Cumberbatch helped monitor a passenger who was found with a box cutter on a plane from Cincinnati to Tampa. [ Courtesy of Larry Cumberbatch ]

Cumberbatch said the incident began about 45 minutes into the flight after a woman went to the front of the plane to speak with the stewardess, who then called the pilot.

Shortly thereafter, Cumberbatch and the passenger sitting next to him on the plane were called up to the front. Cumberbatch is a U.S. Navy veteran and the other passenger had also served in the military. They were asked to help monitor another passenger who was in possession of a box cutter.

Cumberbatch went to swap seats with the woman who had been seated next to Liebisch, but Liebisch got up and walked to the back of the plane.

Cumberbatch followed him and continued to monitor him for about 30 minutes. Liebisch talked to a flight attendant for most of that time. Liebisch said he was worried that Cumberbatch was an air marshal who was going to arrest him or another man that he believed his girlfriend was seeing and was out to get him.

“He was paranoid,” Cumberbatch said.

As the flight prepared for its descent into Atlanta, crew members told Liebisch he had to sit, and he did, Cumberbatch said. After the flight landed, passengers began deplaning. Cumberbatch saw another passenger tackle Liebisch and hold him there until police arrived. Later, Cumberbatch said, a flight attendant told him that Liebisch had reached for the box cutter again.

A Transportation Security Administration review found that security agents had failed to find the box cutters using scanning technology when Liebisch’s items were screened. However, his luggage was flagged for a physical search.

During that search, security found a box cutter in the luggage, removed the blades and returned it to him. According to TSA protocols, agents should have required Liebisch to put the box cutter in his checked luggage or surrender it. The other box cutter was not discovered during security checks.

According to the TSA, the employees who were involved in the search will receive remedial training. The TSA is also scheduling a statewide training on its imaging technology.

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FBI Atlanta spokesperson Jenna Sellitto said Liebisch is in federal custody, but she could not say what charges he is facing until they are released in online federal court records.

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