An American man charged over an alleged air rage incident denies responsibility for the costly diversion of a transatlantic flight, a court has heard.
The United Airlines plane was flying from Rome to Chicago on 20 June 2015 when the captain made the decision to divert to Belfast International Airport after concerns were raised about the man by cabin crew and other passengers.
It was reported at the time that a man’s insistent demands for more and more crackers and nuts to nibble aboard the flight progressed to behaviour so erratic that the pilot diverted the aircraft and dumped 50,000 litres of fuel.
The extraordinary saga of United Airlines flight UA971 from Rome to Chicago has resurfaced in court in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, where the plane diverted when the nut demands reached a crescendo.
The court heard earlier that passenger Jeremiah Mathis Thede, from California, had made insistent demands for nuts and crackers, then paced the aisle, lifting bags and disturbing the 282 passengers and crew.
An airport policeman said Thede refused to sit down until fed nuts. Ten minutes later he arose and demanded yet more nuts.
When cabin crew told the Californian nut fancier to wait until other passengers were served, Thede retorted: “I can have as much nuts and crackers as I f****** want!”
Thede was said to have repeatedly left his seat, opened overhead baggage lockers, blocked aisles and made numerous trips to toilets.
His behaviour grew so disruptive the pilot decided to head for Belfast. See: Cracker and nut case costs airline a fortune
Thede has now appeared before Antrim Magistrates’ Court charged with endangering the safety of the aircraft, disruptive behaviour aboard and common assault.
Defence barrister Aaron Thompson described the high-profile case as “novel” and said his client was “not even aware” of common assault as an offence, the Halesowen News reported.
Diverting the plane was a decision for the pilot, Deputy District Judge Sean O’Hare was told.
“These are all decisions taken by the flight crew,” said Thompson said. “The pilot takes a decision to divert at a large cost.”
Thede was reported to have spoken several times during the brief court hearing to confirm he did not wish to give evidence or call witnesses at this stage. The Californian is already significantly out of pocket as a result of having to stay in Northern Ireland for the case, the court heard.
Releasing Thede on his own bail of GBP 500 (AUD 1088), the judge said novel areas of law would have to be explored.
He told Thede’s defence team: “You will have to look carefully” and adjourned the case until 14 October 2015, warning O’Hare that it was “in your interest to be back at this court on that date”.
Written by Peter Needham