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Cursing, beer-grabbing flight attendant grabs spotlight

By Doug Gross, CNN
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Flight attendant accused of flipping out
  • NEW: Attendant removed from duty; JetBlue is investigating, says deed didn't put crew at risk
  • Steven Slater grabbed beers, cursed out passenger before sliding down escape chute
  • Judge charges Slater, sets $2,500 bail; DA calls chute deployment potentially deadly
  • Slater's charges could get 7 years in prison; deed has earned him support

New York (CNN) -- A flight attendant whose profanity-laced tirade has turned him into a folk hero of sorts was released on bail Tuesday night from a Bronx detention center.

Bail of $2,500 was posted for Steven Slater, of Queens, New York, after being charged Tuesday morning. Authorities say he grabbed some beer and triggered an inflatable emergency chute for a dramatic exit from a plane at a JFK Airport terminal in New York.

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said it "appears" that Slater was quitting during his intercom flameout Monday.

"It's a strange way to quit, let's put it that way," he said. "I don't think he'll be able to come back."

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Slater said as he left the facility that he appreciated the groundswell of support that has grown since the Monday incident, but declined to comment further.

His angry screed over the JetBlue plane's intercom was apparently prompted after a passenger cursed at and shoved or hit Slater. And it's getting an unexpected level of support from folks sympathetic to its "Take This Job and Shove It" bent.

Video: Support for arrested flight attendant
Video: Flight attendant a hero to some
Video: Slater's lawyer: What happened
Video: Flight attendant arrested
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It also got him arrested.

Police arrested Slater for allegedly triggering the emergency escape chute, a spokeswoman for the district attorney said.

He was taken into custody at his home and charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and criminal trespass, said Helen Peterson at the Queens District Attorney's Office.

JetBlue is investigating the incident and has removed Slater from duty. The company would not say whether or not he is on paid leave.

The incident took place after the JetBlue flight landed. A passenger stood to remove a bag from the overhead bin while the plane was still taxiing, a law enforcement source said.

The source said a flight attendant exchanged words with the passenger, and the conversation escalated.

CNN iReport: Have you ever quit your job in dramatic fashion?

Oh yes ... it escalated.

"To the passenger who just called me a mother f***** f*** you. I've been in this business 28 years and I've had it," he said over the plane's public address system, according to passenger Phil Catelinet's blog.

Kelly said the passenger also apparently pushed or hit Slater during the altercation.

When the plane stopped at the gate, Slater reportedly grabbed beer from a beverage cart before deploying the emergency slide and using it to leave the plane.

"At no time was the security or safety of our customers or crewmembers at risk," JetBlue said in a statement.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Slater's actions could have had deadly consequences.

"The emergency chute deploys at 3,000 pounds per square inch within seconds and could easily injure or kill ground crews or others on the tarmac who are unaware the chute has been activated," Brown said.

Watch Slater's lawyer discuss his dramatic deplaning Video

Slater smiled Tuesday as he entered a Queens courtroom for his arraignment. He was ordered held on $2,500 bail and not to have contact with two specific JetBlue employees.

Slater did not speak during the hearing, but a written statement from him was read to the court. "For those of you who had dignity and respect for the last 20 years, it's been a great ride," the statement said.

Slater also acknowledged opening the chute and exiting the plane. His next court appearance is scheduled for September 7.

The identity of the passenger involved in the altercation has not been confirmed.

As a rule, passengers are required to stay in their seats with their seatbelts fastened until the pilot has reached the gate and gives the all-clear sign.

Slater is charged with second-degree criminal mischief and first-degree reckless endangerment, both felonies that could land him in jail for up to seven years, Peterson said.

By Tuesday, Slater's name was all over the place, often winning shows of support.

On Facebook, a celebrity fan page for Slater already had nearly 8,000 members Tuesday morning. A thousand more people had joined a group called "Free Steven Slater," and fledgling groups included "I hate the mother f***** who called Steven Slater a mother f*****" and "I want Steven Slater to be my flight attendant."

"Steven Slater is a bit like John Henry, who became a folk hero years after hammering his way through a railway tunnel faster than a machine," columnist Joanna Molloy wrote in the New York Daily News. "There'll probably be a song about him online today."

He also was getting some sympathy from his colleagues, even if they weren't necessarily endorsing the chute popping and slide to the tarmac.

"I have to admit that if a passenger had hit me with luggage I would have liked an apology, too, though I don't think I would have demanded one," Heather Poole, a flight attendant and blogger, wrote Tuesday on the travel blog Gadling.

"That said, if that same passenger had told me to F-Off! I, too, might have been tempted to pick up the PA and direct the same obscenity to the dude with the potty mouth over the intercom system for all to hear," she wrote. "But never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought to pop a slide and make a run for it. Probably because I'd have no idea which way to go!"

Catelinet, the blogging passenger, told CNN's "American Morning" that Slater looked cool after his unorthodox deplaning -- during which he had the presence of mind to toss his carry-on luggage down the chute before he slid away.

"He had flung his tie off ... he said, 'I quit my job. I'm done with this.' And he was happy. It wasn't like he was mad. He seemed relieved and excited that this career was, you know, taking a new turn," Catelinet said.

CNN's Susan Candiotti, Laura Batchelor, Jesse Solomon and The CNN Wire contributed to this report.