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Air rage accused says passengers could have been concerned by luggage searches

Published 13/04/2016

Jeremiah Mathis Thede denies behaving aggressively towards cabin crew during a United Airlines flight from Rome to Chicago last June
Jeremiah Mathis Thede denies behaving aggressively towards cabin crew during a United Airlines flight from Rome to Chicago last June

An American man accused of endangering an aircraft after he asked for pre-flight snacks has said passengers could have become concerned by his repeated searches in his luggage.

A "perfect storm" of circumstances meant he was hungry and could not sleep, so occupied his time trying to organise contact details taken during a long trip to Europe, Jeremiah Mathis Thede told Antrim Crown Court.

The Californian, 42, denied behaving aggressively towards cabin crew during a United Airlines flight from Rome to Chicago last June.

The service diverted to Belfast after staff became worried and claimed they had been approached by passengers. None of the fellow travellers have given evidence.

Thede said: "I could only assume that maybe the people would not appreciate the fact that I was going to the overhead bin, but they did not make that known to me.

"That was the only thing I could imagine that people would be potentially concerned about."

Thede was on an 11-hour United Airlines' flight from Rome to Chicago, connecting to San Francisco, on June 20 last year.

The accused, from Berkeley near San Francisco, has previously described how he was down to his last dollars following a long trip and had eaten only an apple during five hours waiting at Rome airport for the delayed flight home.

He has said he requested crackers immediately upon boarding, then repeatedly during the flight, because he was hungry.

Judge Desmond Marrinan summarised his point as "a sort of perfect storm" of different coincidences.

The accused said: "I would normally sit in the window, I normally have no cause to go to my overhead bin.

"It was only in response to the fact that I could not sleep that I was trying to figure out an alternative thing to do until meal time.

"I was just consolidating, and that required me to seek out all these loose pieces of paper.

"I did not do it to inconvenience anyone, it was just how I chose to occupy my time.

"This was a unique situation based upon the delay at the airport and the fact I did not have funds available to me that I normally would have."

He said he felt threatened after one passenger told him to "cut it off".

"I had not said anything to anybody so I did not know what it was in response to, and I did not feel like finding out."

He told jurors he fell asleep for the rest of the flight.

The plane had to dump thousands of litres of fuel before making the unscheduled stop in Northern Ireland.

As the crew would have exceeded their legal flying hours if the aircraft had resumed the journey straight away, the 264 passengers had to wait almost 24 hours before they could take off again, with many having to sleep on the terminal floor.

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