Passengers thought the pilot of their American Airlines flight may have failed a random drug and alcohol test but were shocked to find it was far more sinister.
The 51-year-old pilot had been arrested at Louisville International Airport in Kentucky Saturday and charged with killing three people in 2015.
Christian Richard Martin, has been charged with murdering Calvin and Pamela Phillips and their neighbor Edward Dansereau in November 2015.
Calvin Phillips was found shot dead in his home in Pembroke, Kentucky, while the bodies of the other two were found in a nearby cornfield in a burned car.
In addition to the murder charges, Martin faces a count each of attempted burglary and three counts of tampering with physical evidence.
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Passenger Ashley Martin, who is not related to the accused, said the arrest scene was like “something you would totally see in a movie”.
Her mother, Frances Wise, told TV station WDRB: “I think it was very tense. You could tell employees knew something was going on.”
A number of passengers also took to Twitter to express their dismay and the jet took off three hours later than scheduled.
American Airlines said Martin had been a Bombardier CRJ first officer for affiliate PSA Airlines since the beginning of 2018.
The carrier said it was made aware of the indictment after Martin’s arrest at the airport.
“We have an unwavering commitment to safety and security of our customers and team members and we will provide any investigative assistance possible to law enforcement throughout their investigation,’’ it said.
American told CBS a criminal background check had been conducted on Martin and found no criminal history that would disqualify him from being a commercial pilot.
Relatives of the dead couple had offered a $US100,000 reward for help in solving the case and said they were “overwhelmed with this positive step towards resolution for people we love dearly”.