NEWARK, N.J. – A passenger on a Newark-bound flight dozed off wearing
headphones and awoke to find the hands of the stranger seated next to her inside
her blouse and shorts, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Bawer Aksal is due in federal court in Newark Wednesday.
In a criminal complaint, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey charged Bawer Aksal
with sexual abuse.
Prosecutors said the North Bergen resident was sitting in the middle seat on
United Airlines Flight 306 from Phoenix on Monday night when he abused the
woman, who was sitting in the window seat.
The woman, whose name is being withheld by prosecutors because of the nature of
the charges, told authorities she woke up to find the man had one of his hands
inside her shirt touching her breasts and the other in her shorts molesting her,
according to the complaint. Aksal, 48, was breathing heavily and repeatedly
asked the woman to kiss him, it says.
The woman demanded the man get off her, according to the complaint, slammed
down the armrest between them and reported the incident to flight personnel.
A passenger in the aisle seat, noticing the commotion, offered to help the
woman, prosecutors said, and accompanied her to the back of the plane to alert
the flight crew. The aisle passenger later told authorities that he had seen the
woman, who appeared to be asleep and not moving, and saw the man’s arm under a
jacket the woman had draped across her legs.
Aksal was detained on board and was taken into custody by federal authorities
at Newark Liberty International Airport, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s
office said. A spokesman for Chicago-based United Airlines, part of United
Continental Holdings Inc., said the crew requested that authorities meet the
plane at the airport.
Aksal admitted to law enforcement officers in Newark that he had touched the
woman but insisted she had forced his hand into her shorts, prosecutors said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk, who presided over the case Wednesday in Newark
federal court, said he wanted to hold a more detailed hearing before setting
bail for Aksal, who is a Turkish national with U.S. citizenship.
Aksal, who had close-cropped gray hair and wore a T-shirt and jeans while
cuffed at the wrists and ankles, did not speak during his first court
appearance. He was assigned a court-appointed attorney.
The sex abuse charge carries a potential sentence of life in prison and a
$250,000 fine upon conviction.
According to the Cliffview Pilot, Turkish national Askal is the owner of a hotel services company that has connections to a New York hotel and a New Jersey restaurant.
(Story distributed by The Associated Press)