Passengers ended up restraining the flight attendant in the plane cabin until airport police arrived.
Two flight attendants were injured in the incident and were taken to a local hospital. No passengers were injured, and they were never in danger, an airline spokeswoman said.
The flight attendant who caused the commotion continued to scream as she was handcuffed by police and placed into a police car, passengers on the flight told the Chicago Tribune after they exited the plane at Chicago O'Hare.
"I will never get that sound of her screaming out of my head," said Bethany Christakos of Plano, Texas. "It took a good 10 minutes, it felt like, to get her off of the plane."
Other passengers said the incident was diffused in about 15 minutes but it made them nervous. "We were pretty frightened," said Greg Lozano of Elmhurst, Ill. "I was glad we weren't in the air. That was the primary thing I was thinking."
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed there was an "altercation" involving American Airlines Flight 2332, which eventually landed at Chicago O'Hare at 11:46 a.m. CST, more than an hour late.
According to reports by passengers, the trouble began Friday morning as the plane taxied to the runway for takeoff. A flight attendant who had been giving preflight safety instructions began speaking incoherently over the intercom system, confusing and startling passengers.
The attendant said the plane had a mechanical issue and was going to return to the airport gate. However, other flight attendants interrupted and said there were no mechanical issues and that the plane was preparing for takeoff.
The upset flight attendant then said over the public-address system that it would not be her fault if the plane crashed. She began speaking in incomplete sentences, using the words "bankruptcy" and "American Airlines," passengers said. She also referred to the 9/11 terrorist attacks at one point, passengers said.
Some passengers then began calling 911.
Other flight attendants on the plane attempted to calm the woman, but she continued to be agitated. Three or four passengers then left their seats and went to the front of the plane to help restrain her as the plane returned to the gate, a move requested by the pilot, the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed.
Some passengers said the woman appeared to be having a mental breakdown. One passenger said the flight attendant mentioned that she was bipolar and that she had not taken her medication.
A flight attendant who appeared to be injured while attempting to restrain the woman was placed on a gurney and taken away in an ambulance.
An American Airlines spokeswoman said two flight attendants were taken to local hospitals for treatment. "We will ensure that the affected flight attendants receive proper care, and we commend our other crew members for their assistance in quickly getting the aircraft back to the gate so that customers could be re-accommodated," the airline said in a statement. The original cabin crew was replaced with another one before take-off, the airline said.
"Our customers were not in danger at any time," the airline said, adding that it was continuing an investigation into the incident. "We apologize for any inconvenience to our customers, and we appreciate their patience and understanding."
The Transportation Security Administration also said it was aware of the incident but referred questions to American Airlines and airport police.
The flight was originally scheduled to take off from Dallas at 8:25 a.m. and arrive in Chicago at 10:40 a.m. But the flight didn't leave until 9:46 a.m., and arrived in Chicago at 11:46 a.m., according to the American Airlines website.
American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Nov. 29, but has continued flying, as many airlines have during their reorganizations.
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