Federal air marshals charged a Seattle-area man with groping a female passenger aboard a United Airlines flight that was diverted to Pittsburgh as a result of the alleged incident.

Michael L. Holland, 46, made his initial appearance before a magistrate on Monday on a charge of abusive sexual contact, according to Ted Hresko, special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh air marshals' office.

Holland had been chatting with the woman Sunday on United Flight 917, which was bound for Seattle from Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., Hresko said.

"The next thing you know, he's groping her," Hresko said. "The flight attendants asked our (air marshals) to get involved."

Holland was handcuffed by air marshals and taken to an empty seat in another part of the plane, Hresko said. The pilot opted to divert the flight to Pittsburgh so Holland could be removed, Hresko said.

United Airlines officials did not immediately return a call for comment.

The flight left Dulles carrying 182 passengers at 6:08 p.m. and landed in Pittsburgh about an hour later. Pittsburgh airport officials said the flight continued on to Seattle at 9:35 p.m.

It was not immediately clear if Holland had an attorney, or whether he would remain in custody in Pittsburgh. He was held overnight in the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh prior to appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Amy Reynolds Hay.

Holland did not appear to be intoxicated when he was taken into custody Sunday night, Hresko said.

"There was no alcohol on his breath, and when he was interviewed he said he hadn't had a drink for five years," Hresko said. "We have no reason to believe that he was drunk or on any kind of narcotic."

Abusive sexual contact is a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and $1,000 fine, Hresko said.