Ex-soldier jailed for attack which grounded aircraft
A former Ulster soldier who forced an emergency landing after trying to throttle an air passenger has been jailed for two months.
Duncan Whitehead (43), of Dromcose, Enniskillen, had been drinking during the flight from Washington to Heathrow, while travelling to Northern Ireland on Boxing Day last year.
But it was noted he was becoming aggressive and United Airlines staff refused to sell him more alcohol — at which point he told crew he was an “assassin”.
The court heard he then became violent, arguing with a fellow passenger, Daniel Reynolds, before putting his hands around Mr Reynolds’s neck and attacking him.
Prosecutor Peter Lancaster, at Isleworth Crown Court, said: “He put his face up to Mr Reynolds, this defendant, and then what happened was he assaulted him. He got him around the throat area and then was strangling him.
“They both fell on the floor and this was obviously a very frightening thing to happen for the people around them.”
Two air marshalls had to restrain Whitehead, who was in the process of a divorce and was on anti-depressants. He was still unfit to be interviewed the following morning, the court was told.
His defence counsel, Tony Nayager, said he was a man of good character who was deeply remorseful for his actions and urged the judge to give him a non-custodial sentence.
He is also awaiting the results of a tribunal to see if the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffers is related to military service.
Judge Martin Edmunds said: “Either before or during that flight you got drunk and subsequently behaved extremely badly.
“There came a stage when you became physically violent to another passenger, to the point where two air marshalls aboard that plane felt it necessary to restrain you and put you to the ground and keep you restrained for a significant period.
“The aircraft itself had to make a priority landing at Heathrow because of the situation which you had created.
“All that, I’m quite sure you understand, represents a very serious incident.”
Whitehead pleaded guilty to being drunk on a plane and assault by beating and was jailed for a total of two months.