Lawyer: United Passenger Dragged Off Flight Says Experience More Horrifying Than Leaving Vietnam During Fall Of Saigon

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A lawyer for the passenger dragged out of his seat and off a United flight said the experience was more horrifying than when his client left Vietnam during the fall of Saigon.

Dr. David Dao, 69, was forcibly removed from his United Express flight Sunday by Chicago Department of Aviation police in at O’Hare International Airport after he refused to give up his seat on the full plane to make room for crew members.

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“He left Vietnam in 1975 when Saigon fell and he was on a boat and he said he was terrified,” Attorney Thomas Demetrio said during a press conference Thursday in Chicago. “He said that being dragged down the aisle was more horrifying and harrowing than what he experienced in leaving Vietnam.”

Demetrio said he has heard “tales of woe of mistreatment by United” from passengers and employees since videos of the incident went public.

“They have treated us less than maybe we deserve,” Demetrio said. “For a long time airlines, United in particular, have bullied us.”

Crystal Pepper, Dao’s daughter, said she and her family were horrified, shocked and sickened to see what had happened to her father, CBS2’s Jessica Moore reported.

“What happened to my dad should have never happened to any human being regardless of the circumstance. We were horrified, and shocked, and sickened to learn what had happened to him and to see what had happened to him,” Pepper said. “We hope that in the future, nothing like this happens again.”

Demetrio also criticized executive officer Oscar Munoz is under fire for his initial response.

“Initially he backed up his people, and that may be a big part of the problem — the culture. It’s us against them,” Demetrio said. “Well, we are them and, this lawsuit shows how we will be treated going forward.”

Demetrio was asked whether United had reached out to Dao since the incident.

“I haven’t heard from United either, and I asked Crystal if she had gotten a voice message or anything — and the answer is no,” he said.

But after the attorney spoke, United continued to insist that it did reach out.

Coverage From CBS Chicago — Mike Puccinelli Reports:

The incident began Sunday afternoon as United was trying to make room for four employees of a partner airline, meaning paying passengers had to get off.

At first, the airline asked for volunteers, offering $400 and then when that did not work, $800 per passenger to relinquish a seat. When no one voluntarily came forward, United selected four passengers at random.

Three people got off the flight, but the fourth, Dao, said he was a doctor and needed to get home to treat patients on Monday. He refused to leave.

“I won’t go, I’m a physician and have to work tomorrow at 8 o’clock,” Dao is seen calmly telling officers in a newly released video. “No, I am not going. You can drag me out, but I’m not going.”

Shortly afterwards, the officers ended up grabbing Dao from his window seat and dragging him down the aisle by his arms.

He somehow got back on the plane a short time later, and was seen on video repeatedly saying, “I have to go home,” as he ran up the aisle to the back of the plane.

Dao suffered a significant concussion, broken nose and lost two front teeth, Demetrio said. He has been released from the hospital but will have to undergo reconstructive surgery.

“Here’s the law – real simple. If you’re going to eject a passenger, under no circumstances can it be done with unreasonable force or violence,” Demetrio said. “That’s the law.”

The airline said it’s changing its policies and offering refunds to all of the passengers onboard that plane.

Chicago’s aviation officers are not part of the Chicago Police Department. Three of them involved have been placed on leave.

Munoz said he was disturbed by what happened aboard Flight 3411 and apologized to Dao.

“No one should ever be mistreated this way,” he said in a message to employees.

The airline initially called Dao disruptive and belligerent.

Some customers responded by cutting up their United credit cards and promised to boycott the airline. On Tuesday, the company’s stock took a nosedive at one point losing about $1 billion dollars in market value.

Dao and his lawyers are expected to take legal action, with Demetrio saying a lawsuit will “probably” be filed.

“Dr. Dao to I believe his great credit has come to understand that he’s the guy to stand up for passengers going forward,” Demetrio said. “It’s us against them, well we’re them and this lawsuit among other things hopefully will create not just national discussion but international discussion on how we’re going to be treated going forward.”

Lawyers submitted an emergency petition to protect and preserve surveillance video of passengers boarding the plane, the cockpit voice recording, passenger list, crew list, all incident reports, the airline’s protocol for removing passengers, and the personnel files of the officers involved.

Demetrio said there will be a court hearing on the motion Monday.

Dao’s attorney said United has not yet contacted the family.

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie is calling for a federal ban on overbooking flights and bumping passengers to prevent a similar scene at Newark Airport, where United accounts for 70 percent of air traffic.

Other national and Chicago local officials are also calling on the airlines to change their policies, WBBM-TV, CBS2 Chicago’s Mike Puccinelli reported.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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