A Panama-Bound Plane Was Escorted Back to Toronto By U.S. Fighter Jets Because of a "Threat"
Of all the weeks to make off-hand airplane threats, this week of aviation-related disasters is probably not one of the best. So discovered a 25-year-old Canadian man, whose alleged "direct threats" to an aircraft forced the Panama-bound Sunwing plane to turn back to Toronto, escorted by U.S. fighter jets. As if that weren't traumatizing enough for the poor passengers, the flight they were put on next? It also had to make an emergency stop, thanks to a medical emergency.
Sunwing Flight 772 took off as scheduled on Thursday, departing from Toronto to Panama at 7 a.m. with all 183 passengers on board, as well as a crew of six. But, according to The Independent, after only 45 minutes in the air, one of the passengers became unruly. A witness told CTV News that it all started when the flight attendant passed by handing out headsets.
"He basically just tore a strip off her, explaining how expensive the cigarettes are here in Canada, he hates Canada," Passenger Bettina Bathe said to CTV Toronto. "Then he said, with great expression using his hands, 'I just want to bomb Canada.'"
Sunwing President Mark Williams told the National Post that, after he heard the 25-year-old threaten to "blow up" the plane, he decided that it was time for the emergency response plan. This involved turning the jet around, calling in two F16s, and making an emergency landing at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. At that point, an armed tactical unit stormed the cabin, telling everyone to put their "heads down," and arresting the unruly passenger, Ali Shahi. He was charged with "endangering the safety of an aircraft" and "uttering threats," according to CBC news.
Shahi's father issued a statement on Friday night, explaining that his son suffered from “mental issues,” and was “not at fault” for what he did. “I am sorry for what happened on the flight, but Ali is not at fault. I blame the police and health system,” Shahi said, according to CTV News.
It's been a rough month for plane travelers, and a particularly dire couple of weeks. First, there was the as-yet-unsolved disappearance of MH370, and then there was the intentional shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. On Wednesday of this week, another plane went down in Taiwan. Only two days ago, an Air Algerie plane crashed in Mali, leaving no survivors. And the poor flyers on Sunwing Flight 772 had it particularly rough — after being put on an alternative flight Friday afternoon, they ended up making an emergency landing in Jamaica after a passenger passed out.
I'm choosing travel by sea, from now on.