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American accused of United Airlines air rage faces Belfast Crown Court

By Paul Higgins

Published 07/07/2015

A United Airlines flight en route to Chicago landed at Belfast after a passenger became erratic and disruptive and demanded nuts
A United Airlines flight en route to Chicago landed at Belfast after a passenger became erratic and disruptive and demanded nuts
Passengers sleeping on the floor at Belfast International Airport on Saturday night after their flight was diverted

An American man accused of an air rage incident is likely to be prosecuted in Belfast Crown Court because of the huge costs to the airline, a judge has heard.

Jeremiah Mathis Thede was allegedly disruptive on board a United Airlines plane from Rome to Chicago after demanding he should be served more "nuts or crackers".

It led to the trans-Atlantic jet being diverted to Belfast International Airport.

Lodging a bail application on behalf of the 42-year-old at Antrim Magistrates Court, barrister Aaron Thompson said that because the airline's reported costs of diverting the flight was "between £300,000 - £500,000...this case is only going one way."

Mr Thompson lamented the fact that the Californian was having difficulty finding a suitable bail address to be released to and understanding why he is being held in a Northern Irish jail.

Thede, from The Alameda in Berkeley, California, is in custody charged with endangering the safety of the aircraft, disruptive behaviour on board and common assault on 20 June.

Previous courts have heard allegations that he flew into a rage over demands for “nuts and crackers," forcing the pilot to divert to Belfast International at Aldergrove after concerns were raised about the man by cabin crew and other passengers.

An officer from the Belfast International Airport Constabulary described how the alleged incident unfolded when Thede allegedly got up 15 minutes after take-off from Rome at a time when the seatbelt lights were still illuminated, demanding “nuts or crackers”.

Thede refused to sit back down again until he obtained a snack and the officer said a member of crew managed to “appease” the passenger by giving him some nuts and he then retook his seat.

However ten minutes later he was demanding more nuts and crackers and when told he could only have more if there were packets left from giving his fellow passengers theirs, Thede apparently declared: "I can have as much nuts and crackers as I f****** want.”

Thede is accused of common assault on the air stewardess he was dealing with but it is accepted that no blow was struck.

After these incidents, crew alerted the captain about Thede’s alleged conduct and he asked for a number of men to sit around the passenger in case he became violent.

The United Airlines plane had been en route from Rome to Chicago and the plane had to dump 50,000 litres of fuel before making the unscheduled stop.

As the crew would have exceeded their legal flying hours if the aircraft had recommenced the journey straight away, 282 passengers were forced to wait almost 24 hours before the plane could take off again, with many having to sleep on the terminal floors.

Today Mr Thompson said that despite the best efforts of his legal team who have been in touch with the US Consulate, Thede did not have a proposed bail address but he was asking District Judge Alan White to grant bail "to an address suitable to police."

He revealed that the Simon Community won't accept him as they wanted assurances they would be paid for his place and the lawyer said it may help move matters along if Thede could have access to his computer, currently held in his property at the jail after it was taken from him on the plane.

"He has a property in the US that can be rented out and can derive an income," said Mr Thompson, adding that Thede "adamantly denies" the allegations.

The "prime issue," he told the court, was for the case to be moved on as quickly as possible.

Refusing the bail application and remanding Thede back into custody to appear again in two weeks, Judge White said he was not prepared to grant bail in the absence of an address.

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