Two of three family members accused of smoking during a Sunwing flight that left Halifax for the Dominican Republic on Friday were sentenced in Bermuda court today after their plane was forced to make an emergency landing on the island.
David MacNeil, 54, Donna MacNeil, 52, and David MacNeil Jr., 22, appeared in plea court in Hamilton, Bermuda, Monday after they were accused of smoking on a flight. All three were charged with disobeying lawful commands under the Air Navigation (Overseas Territories) Order.
Owain Johnston-Barnes, a reporter for Bermuda's Royal Gazette who was in the Hamilton court Monday, said the three MacNeils are from Mabou, Cape Breton, and that the family lives together off of Route 19.
MacNeil Sr. pleaded guilty to behaving in a disorderly manner and using abusive and insulting words. Donna MacNeil pleaded guilty to disobeying lawful commands. David MacNeil Jr. was charged with smoking on the plane, but he denied the charge in court Monday.
Prosecutors decided not to proceed further with the charges, so in the end, no one was found guilty of smoking on the plane.
The two eldest MacNeils were sentenced to either a $500 fine or 10 days in prison. MacNeil Jr. was free to go.
Johnston-Barnes said the family appeared embarrassed during their court appearance. The family's lawyer, Victoria Pearman, described the incident as something that got out of hand and escalated beyond their control.
The flight was diverted Friday night after a passenger alerted the crew about the alleged smokers.
Daryl McWilliams, vice-president of media relations for Sunwing, said a fourth MacNeil family member, a teen, was not accused of smoking on the flight.
Dwayne Caines, a spokesman for the Bermuda Police Service, said at least one of the MacNeils became verbally abusive in the cabin.
Johnston-Barnes said police told him MacNeil Sr. was the one who became verbally abusive.
MacNeil Sr. is alleged to have said, "You f---ing ass----, I just pissed all over the floor," according to Caines.
Caines said all three accused disobeyed Sunwing crew members.
McWilliams said it's hard to understand what the three were thinking.
"My understanding is that these passengers were smoking in their seats, which is unusual to say the least," said McWilliams.
"It's been 20 years since people were allowed to smoke on an aircraft. The only thing I can think of [is] maybe they wanted to stage some sort of display that 'we're opposed to this law.'"
They were putting other people's lives at risk, the airline spokesman said.
Sunwing plans to sue, says spokesperson
McWilliams said on Monday that Sunwing plans to sue the MacNeils for costs associated with diverting the plane.
"We’re going to sue them," he said. "It’s something that we don’t do very often. We do it in cases where we think the activity has been flagrant. It usually requires going beyond verbal abuse."
McWilliams estimates that the cost of diverting the flight could be as much as $50,000. He said those costs include:
- Landing fees at Bermuda airport.
- Flying a mechanic to Bermuda to examine the aircraft for defects (standard operating procedure for overweight planes.)
- Cost to hire crew to search plane for cigarette butts to make sure they were extinguished.
- Accommodations for passengers and crew overnight in Bermuda.
- Accommodations for passengers scheduled to fly home from the Dominican Republic on the diverted plane.
McWilliams said since the plane had to land before its scheduled destination, it was overweight due to the unburned fuel on board.
He said MacNeil family members were not co-operative, which is why the company had to pay a crew to search for cigarette butts.
"The passengers involved in this ridiculous situation refused to say what they did with their cigarettes so that meant that there was a potentially hazardous material, which was an incendiary, onboard the aircraft," said McWilliams
Dave Shellington's wife, Cathy, was on the plane. The Charlottetown man said she texted him to tell him there was a lot of screaming and swearing.
The rest of the plane's 170 passengers and crew members were put up for the night in a hotel at Sunwing's expense.
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It's a good idea to wait until everyone's fully seated on the plane before getting intoxicated. <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/story/2012/08/21/calgary-oil-executive-flight-disruption.html" target="_hplink">Justin Neil Frank, a 35-year-old Calgary man was arrested after forcing an Air Canada flight from London to Calgary back in August.</a> CBC reports Frank was drunk when he boarded the plane and kept drinking throughout — that is, when he wasn't walking down the aisles claiming to be an oil executive (he works as a rig service electrician). He was later tied down to his seat with duct tape and straps and arrested by the RCMP when the flight landed in Edmonton.
In late August, a United Airlines flight en route to Geneva, Switzerland from Newark, New Jersey was forced to divert in Boston because of an... ordinary camera. Well, to be fair, police and airline crew thought the unclaimed camera could potentially be a bomb, which is <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/07/flight-diverted-over-unclaimed-camera/" target="_hplink">why the 169 people on board had to be removed from the plane</a> while bomb technicians disposed of the camera.
A Bad Joke
The most recent restriction to flying has been the limitation of liquids, gels and aerosols to containers no greater than 100 ml or 100 grams. Combine this with a prank call and you've got the fixings for a bomb scare. Last September, a passenger was victim of a bomb hoax when someone called <a href="http://travel.usatoday.com/flights/story/2012-09-06/Philadelphia-to-Dallas-flight-returns-to-airport/57629992/1" target="_hplink">police at Philadelphia International Airport informing them that a passenger was "carrying a dangerous substance"</a>, as reported by USA Today. The passenger's name matched with someone on board a flight bound to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The plane was forced to return to Philadelphia where police arrested the passenger, only to release him after realizing he had done nothing wrong.
A Prayer Box
Back in January of 2010, a US Airways flight leaving New York and heading to Louisville, Kentucky had to divert to Philadelphia due to a misunderstanding over a teenager's prayer box. The 17-year-old Jewish boy was flying with his sister when he started using his <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,583542,00.html" target="_hplink">tefillin, a set of small black boxes containing biblical passages that are attached to leather straps, attaching one box to his head and the other to his arm</a>, according to Fox News. Crew members of the flight questioned the boy but weren't able to get a "clear response" and asked the plane to turn back to Philadelphia for a more thorough investigation.
What can only be interpreted as a big misunderstanding is also the reason why a partially blind 86-year-old-man caused a Spirit Airlines flight from California to Florida to be diverted to Houston back in July. The man, who <a href="http://www.canada.com/health/Police+Partially+blind+scared+unruly+aboard+Spirit+flight+diverted/6905688/story.html" target="_hplink">only spoke French, became unruly and started swinging at passengers because he was "scared,"</a> reports Canada.com
Medical Help From Obama
Back in May, a French woman managed to divert a US Airways flight from Paris to North Carolina after claiming she had been surgically implanted with a device. Flight 787 landed in Bangor International Airport unexpectedly after Lucie Zeeko Marigot, 41, said <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/23/us-airways-flight-diverte_n_1539618.html" target="_hplink">she had something inside of her that was "out of control" and was travelling to the U.S. to seek medical help from President Barack Obama and the American people</a>. Marigot was never charged by U.S. authorities but was sent back to France, according to U.S. Attorney, Thomas Delahanty II.
Flight Attendant Squabble
What was supposed to be a normal flight from North Carolina to Chicago resulted in a diversion after a fight broke out between two flight attendants on board a United Airlines plane. Raleigh-Durham International Airport <a href="http://www.news.com.au/travel/news/flight-attendant-tiff-forces-plane-diversion-again/story-e6frfq80-1226482329909" target="_hplink">received an early morning call from the pilot of Flight 1214, saying that there was an assault on board</a>, according to News.com, when it was actually a verbal argument between two stewards. When the plane returned to North Carolina, the attendants were removed and the plane was restaffed.