NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A man was acquitted Tuesday of assaulting an airline ticket agent whose neck was broken during a confrontation as a delayed flight was boarding.

The jury deliberated 3 1/2 hours over two days before clearing John C. Davis of the single count of aggravated assault. If convicted of the second-degree charge, he could have faced 10 years in prison. They could also have convicted him of a lesser offense, third-degree aggravated assault, which would likely have carried no prison time.

The verdict came after two weeks of testimony in the so-called ``air rage'' trial, whose central incident sprang from circumstances familiar to millions of airline passengers: tedious delays in crowded terminals.

Prosecution witnesses said Davis, 31, of Fredricksburg, Va., slammed Continental Airlines ticket agent Angelo Sottile headfirst onto the floor after enduring a two-hour delay at Newark International Airport.

Defense witnesses, including Davis and his family members, insisted that Sottile attacked first by grabbing Davis's neck, and that they both fell to the floor together after Davis put Sottile in a bear hug.

Sottile, 52, of Kearny, spent five days in a coma. He testified last week he has no memory of what happened. He said he has lost 80 percent of his neck mobility and now works only part-time as a postal worker.

The dispute began when Davis and 10 other family members began boarding a flight to Orlando, Fla., on July 22, 1999, on their way to Disney World.

Davis's wife, Victoria, testified Sottile stopped her from retrieving their 18-month-old daughter, Kayla, who had wandered up the jetway, and Davis testified he confronted Sottile after the agent shoved his wife.