DETROIT, Michigan (AFP) - – "I just jumped, I didn't think," said Dutchman Jasper Schuringa, who has emerged as a Christmas Day hero for his impulsive tackling of a terror suspect who tried to blow up a US-bound airliner.
Witnesses and authorities have praised passengers and crew for banding together to stop the suspect, identified by US authorities as Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23.
The suspect failed to fully detonate an incendiary device containing what authorities called "a high explosive" that he managed to sneak past airport security and started to ignite as the jet approached Detroit.
But if Schuringa's interview with CNN is any indication, he's the one who rescued the plane's 278 other passengers and 11 crew.
"I basically reacted directly," a relaxed-looking Schuringa, wearing a gray T-shirt and with his right hand and wrist in a bandage, told the news network Saturday.
"When I saw the suspect he was getting on fire and I freaked of course, and without any hesitation jumped over the seats and jumped to the suspect because I was thinking, like, he's trying to blow up the plane."
Schuringa was seated on the right of the Northwest Airlines Airbus 330, in the row behind Abdulmutallab who was in a window seat on the right side of the plane. He said he "reacted on a bang," and when smoke and flames started billowing from the suspect's lap and up the side of the cabin he clambered over fellow passengers and tackled him.
"When you hear a pop on a plane, you're awake, trust me. So I just jumped, I didn't think, and I just went, went over there and tried to save the plane, I guess."
As terrified passengers screamed and the cabin filled with smoke, the level-headed Schuringa and alert crew dragged the suspect to the front and contained him, while others put out the mini-blaze with a fire extinguisher.
"We took him to first class and there we stripped him and contained him with handcuffs and made sure he had no more weapons or bombs on him."
The Dutchman, who US media reported was a video director and producer, said that "absolutely nothing" about Abdulmutallab suggested he would try anything sinister.
"He looked like a normal guy," he said. "It was just hard to believe that he was actually going to, trying to blow up this plane."
Schuringa's effort is the latest act of bravery in US skies, some of which has reached iconic status.
For many the epitome of aviation heroism is represented by Chesley Sullenberger, the unflappable captain who landed his crippled US Airways jet in the Hudson River last January, saving everyone aboard.
For others it is the efforts of those on United Airlines Flight 93, which was hijacked on September 11, 2001.
Passengers on that flight, having learned of earlier attacks that fateful day on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, mounted an assault to try and overpower the hijackers. The jet plowed into a Pennsylvania field, killing all aboard, and passengers were lauded for stopping what experts conclude was a terrorist attack in progress.
Senior US politicians, while not mentioning Schuringa by name, hailed those on the Christmas Day flight who apprehended the would-be Detroit airline bomber.
"We are forever indebted to the heroic passengers and flight attendants who sought to subdue the suspect," said Bennie Thompson, chairman of the homeland security committee in the House of Representatives.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement that she was "grateful to the passengers and crew aboard Northwest Flight 253 who reacted quickly and heroically to an incident that could have had tragic results."
Schuringa said he burned his hands as he struggled to rip away a burning object that appeared to be strapped to the suspect's leg, near his crotch, and then tried to put out the fire with his bare hands, according to the New York Post.
"I dont feel like a hero," Schuringa told the Post. "It was something that came completely natural... It was something where I had to do something or it was too late."
But Schuringa's cult-like status quickly began to grow, at least on the Internet.
Less than 30 hours after the foiled attack, social networking site Facebook already had four fan groups dedicated to the Dutchman.
"You put aside your own life to save the lives of others," Facebook user Maraya Holland wrote in a message.
"I am so grateful to you, even though I wasn't on the flight, for giving us all hope, and showing us what we all should do if faced with the same situation. Thank you, thank you, thank you."