Man accused of groping woman in front of her daughter on American Airlines flight

James Clayton Cholewinski-Boyd.
James Clayton Cholewinski-Boyd. Photo credit: Tulsa Police Department.

A man has been accused of sexually assaulting a female passenger on an American Airlines flight, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing.

Retired speedskater James Clayton Cholewinski-Boyd, 32, has been charged with criminal sexual misconduct for allegedly groping a woman in front of her daughter on Tuesday (local time).

Cholewinski-Boyd was seated next to the woman and her daughter on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to Utah's Salt Lake City. 

Shortly after takeoff, he started touching the woman's arm. The woman repeatedly pushed his hands away from her.

According to a federal criminal complaint, the 32-year-old proceeded to "forcibly grab her by the crotch". After the woman protested, the alleged offender quickly put his hands up and said "sorry".

The complaint says the woman reported the incident to the aircraft's crew, who relocated her and her daughter to another part of the plane.

The pilot subsequently diverted the flight to Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma so Cholewinski-Boyd, a Utah resident, could be removed from the plane. 

The man was arrested by airport police upon his arrival and charged with public intoxication, according to authorities.

He was charged by federal prosecutors with abusive sexual conduct on Friday (local time), reports the New York Times

In a statement to local media, American Airlines thanked the crew for their quick actions.

The flight continued to its destination after stopping and refuelling in Tulsa.

In a 2018 report, the FBI found that reports of sexual assault on planes have increased. Thirty-eight assaults were reported in 2014, increasing to 63 in 2017.

To help passengers stay safe on flights, experts recommend keeping the arm-rest down between seats, alerting flight attendants to any inappropriate behaviour and calling attention to the situation if it escalates.