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Mysterious in-flight fires lead to lengthy jail term

March 13, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

An ex-soldier, a “Mayday” emergency call and the extraordinary story of two potentially catastrophic mid-air fires on a flight carrying nearly 200 people – all these elements surfaced in a courtroom last week.

Birmingham Crown Court in the English city heard that two fires had broken out on a full Monarch Airlines flight from Birmingham to the Egyptian resort destination of Sharm El Sheikh. Passengers, who included young children, had become distressed and hysterical.

The blazes broke out in separate toilets at different stages of the flight, the court heard. Former soldier John Cox, 46, pleaded guilty to causing one of them. Despite suspicions about the other fire, the culprit has not been identified officially.

The second fire caused the flight’s captain to issue a Mayday call and prepare for an emergency landing, the Birmingham Mail reported.

The Monarch flight to Sharm El Sheikh departed Birmingham in the afternoon of 27 August 2015 and proceeded normally until the plane had been airborne for about an hour and was passing over Munich.

The captain then received an electronic cockpit alert that a smoke detector had been activated in one of the plane’s toilets. Cabin crew rushed to the scene and found a blaze in the toilet’s waste paper compartment. They used two fire extinguishers and water to put it out.

Captain Shane Curtis then issued a “strongly worded” announcement about smoking on the flight, warning passengers of the consequences. He told crew to remain vigilant and decided to carry on with the flight, with four remaining fire extinguishers aboard.

Three hours later, while over Egypt, the cockpit alarm sounded again. Another fire had broken out in waste paper in another toilet. Cabin crew struggled against smoke and flame, exhausting two of the remaining fire extinguishers, the court heard. A former pilot, who had worked in fire and rescue, was aboard and helped.

At this point Captain Curtis issued a Mayday call, signalling a life-threatening emergency, and prepared to land in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. The fire had by then been brought under control and the captain considered it was safe to fly on to the scheduled destination, Sharm El Sheikh, which is about 560 kilometres from Alexandria, a little over an hour’s flight time. The plane was an Airbus – Monarch operates A320s and A321s, as well as Boeing aircraft.

Cox was said to have admitted drinking alcohol served aboard as well as having brought his own alcohol on the plane, the paper reported. Prosecutor William Dudley said some passengers suspected Cox was responsible for the fires but when questioned by cabin crew Cox denied it and became aggressive.

The fires had a “profound” effect on crew, captain and passengers, the court heard.

Cox admitted starting one of the two fires and pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless arson.

Defence counsel Gurdeep Garcha said Cox, who had previously served nine years in the army and worked for Britain’s Royal Mail service, had been drinking “far too heavily” and had behaved in an “utterly irresponsible and reckless fashion”, the paper reported.

Judge Mark Wall QC told Cox his “stupid and dangerous” act could have led directly to the deaths of over 200 people and “must have ruined the holidays of countless people and made future flying an ordeal for many”.

He jailed Cox for four and a half years.

Written by Peter Needham

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