Dennis Cassinelli: An Air West adventure |

Dennis Cassinelli: An Air West adventure

Dennis Cassinelli

I’ve never claimed to be a fighter like my Great Uncle Bert, but I have been in a scuffle or two that did resemble some of his escapades. As I tell the stories of what happened with Bert back in those days, I’m reminded of a few things I’ve done I now confess in writing.

During the 1970s I worked for the Nevada Highway Department and later the Nevada Department of Transportation. The job required extensive travel in and around the Silver State. It was during those days and travels I acquired an appreciation for the remarkable history of Nevada.

When returning home on one particular Air West flight from Las Vegas to Reno, I was seated in a window seat near the front of the plane sipping a CC and 7 and chatting with a young lady passenger seated in the aisle seat. Suddenly, I saw a scuffle in the aisle when a man grabbed the flight attendant around the neck and began punching her in the face. I had no idea if this was an attempted hijacking or what. Without even thinking, I jumped up and over the girl alongside me and grabbed the man around his neck and slammed him down on the floor in the galley compartment of the DC-9 FunJet. He was still holding the stewardess around the neck and she had the most frightened look on her face I had ever seen. As we lie there on the floor, I whispered in his ear, “Let go of her or I will shove your head through the wall of this airplane.”

Before any of us could get up off the floor, I heard a voice above me say, “All right, I’ll take over from here, I am an officer of the law.” A man who identified himself as an employee of the Nevada State Prison put handcuffs on the perpetrator and led him away. He said he was transporting the man back to the prison in Carson City when the guy said he had to use the restroom. When the guard let him go unattended, the prisoner assaulted the flight attendant.

I then went back to my seat until the plane landed. The passenger next to me asked what the hell was happening, but I wasn’t sure enough to give her an answer. Like most people, I had often wondered what I would do and how I would react if a real emergency situation happened. In my case, there wasn’t really any time to think what the consequences would be, but the impulse to do something quickly took over and made me react as I did.

Upon arrival at the Air West Terminal in Reno, the aircraft was met on the tarmac by police cars with flashing lights. The perpetrator, along with his prison guard escort, were taken away before the passengers were allowed to depart. As I left the aircraft, I passed by the stewardess who had been assaulted. She didn’t look at me, but kept her eyes cast down so no one could see her bruises.

Later that evening, I saw a television news report of the incident. The report stated a flight attendant had been assaulted on the Air West flight, but was quickly rescued by the brave prison guard and taken into custody.

It was several days later a fellow Highway Department employee named Hardy Mathieson told me he had been on the same flight that day and had seen the whole incident. After he saw the news report that followed, he told me he couldn’t believe how the story had been distorted to keep the prison employee from being disciplined for his carelessness. I really didn’t expect any reward or recognition for what I had done, but a simple “thank you” or even a free drink would’ve been appreciated.

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted at or on his blog at All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount to reduce inventory and Dennis will pay the postage. These will no longer be available from Amazon.