A drunken and disruptive passenger who repeatedly abused staff on a flight from Gatwick to St Lucia has been jailed.
A Sussex Police statement says that Uche Ezedinma had to be physically restrained and caused the Virgin Atlantic aircraft to be diverted due to his persistently poor behaviour.
No passenger or crew should have to experience such abject abuse on board an aircraft
He was verbally and physically aggressive throughout, which included spitting at a member of staff, punching the overhead storage and threatening numerous other cabin crew.
He also smoked a cigarette in the toilet, which is strictly prohibited by airlines.
The statement adds that the 36-year-old had been travelling in the company of his mother, a further 247 passengers and 10 crew members on the Airbus A330 to St Lucia on 28 January 2017.
But less than half way into the journey, it was diverted to the Azores in Portugal to offload Ezedinma, of Elgin Road, Croydon, Surrey, and continue its journey.
This was due to safety concerns for the aircraft and those on board, and was a decision not taken lightly by the captain – it was the first time in 20 years as a Virgin pilot he had to divert a flight due to passenger behaviour.
Ezedinma was removed from the plane by local officers, and the remaining passengers were required to disembark to enable the plane to refuel – this was as a result of the extra fuel consumed by the diversion, and caused a significant disruption.
Following this, the flight resumed without any further issues, and the incident was reported to Sussex Police.
A protracted enquiry process via Interpol was undertaken to determine what action the Portuguese authorities had taken, and it was confirmed the defendant was allowed on his way after just two hours of administrative paperwork.
Investigators at Gatwick Police conducted an investigation and gained sufficient evidence to present to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and Ezedinma was subsequently charged with being drunk in an aircraft and negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or any person therein.
At Lewes Crown Court on Tuesday June 26, he was sentenced to a total of 14 months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay a £140 victim surcharge.
Detective Sergeant Patrick Sweeney, of Gatwick Investigations, said: “The language, attitude and behaviour displayed by Ezedinma throughout the flight was completely unacceptable. No passenger or crew should have to experience such abject abuse on board an aircraft, and the sentence imposed sends a clear message to others that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated.
“There are numerous signs on board every aircraft which indicate smoking is strictly prohibited, and Ezedinma blatantly ignored these signs, potentially causing a real danger to the aircraft and those on board.”
In May, Sussex Police launched its annual summer crackdown on disruptive passengers in partnership with Gatwick Airport.
The operation aims to prevent drunken and disruptive behaviour on flights and in the airport through early engagement with passengers.
Det Sgt Sweeney added: “This case demonstrates that while we increase resources for our summer campaign, we will continue to detect and deter disruptive behaviour 365 days and year. It further demonstrates that we will deal robustly with anyone who fails to comply with the law, which is clearly outlined at various locations throughout Gatwick Airport.
“It is an offence to be drunk on board an aircraft, and passengers need to be aware of their own responsibilities before they board a flight. By all means have fun, but don’t ruin it for yourself or anyone else.”
A Virgin Atlantic spokesman said: “The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our top priority, and we will not tolerate disruptive or abusive behaviour on board any Virgin Atlantic aircraft.
“We continue to work closely with the relevant authorities and will always seek prosecution for those individuals that cause disruption to our services through unacceptable behaviour.”
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