In 30 years it was first time I felt I had to divert, pilot tells air rage trial
An airline pilot who diverted a transatlantic flight after an alleged incident of passenger air rage sparked by a row over snacks has defended his decision.
Captain Jands Latura told the trial of Jeremiah Mathis Thede the unscheduled landing in Belfast was the first time in his 30-year career he had changed course due to unruly on-board behaviour.
He said the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and his employers at United Airlines had not questioned or challenged the decision to divert, which was taken on safety grounds.
Thede, from California, denies a charge of recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger the Boeing 777 or persons in the aircraft, which had been en route from Rome to Chicago.
He allegedly swore at a flight attendant after she refused his request for peanuts and crackers and, as the journey continued, is accused of engaging in other erratic and threatening behaviour.
Mr Latura told Antrim Crown Court: "We followed our procedures very, very well, we did what was necessary to ensure the safety of every passenger - every man, woman and child on that aeroplane."
He added: "He was behaving in a manner which was threatening, not just to flight attendants, but to other passengers, and basically to the safety of the aircraft."
On the fourth day of the trial, the transcript of a police interview with Thede upon his arrest in Northern Ireland was outlined to the jury. In it he branded the allegations made by crew as a "fabrication" and "ludicrous".
Mr Latura said he had dealt with multiple incidents of disruptive behaviour in the last three decades but, on each occasion, the situation had been "de-escalated".
The captain said crew had done everything possible to resolve the situation. He said it was the collective opinion of senior flight crew to divert before the flight crossed over the Atlantic Ocean.
Earlier a flight attendant told the court Thede pointed his finger at her face and demanded to know her name when she refused his request for additional snacks.
Lisa Hall told the jury: "He became very angry and he told me he could have all the f****** peanuts and crackers he wanted."
She claimed Thede had come back to the galley area of the economy section a short time after take-off, when the seatbelt sign was on, and asked for peanuts and crackers. He was given the snacks on that occasion, but when he returned a short time later Ms Hall said she told him there was only one snack per passenger.
Ms Hall claimed Thede became enraged and pointed his finger at her face: "He seemed extremely angry and it was just not normal behaviour," she said.
The flight attendant with almost 30 years of experience told the court she expressed concern to the head flight attendant that "somebody was going to get hurt".
Asked who, she added: "Anybody confronting this passenger - any passenger on the aeroplane or any flight attendant."
In the transcript of Thede's police interview, which was read to court, he denied the claims. "That's a lie, that's 100% a lie - it's a fabrication," he told an interviewing police officer. "I wouldn't have spoken to a woman in that position with those words or in that manner."
Thede (42), from Berkeley, claimed he had been asleep for an hour when the diverted flight landed at Belfast. "When they landed I thought we were in Chicago," he said.
He told police: "I don't understand what kind of threat I could've been to that aircraft."
The airliner carrying 264 passengers was flying to the US on June 20 last year and 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 passengers had to wait almost 24 hours before the plane could take off again.
The prosecution concluded its evidence early on Monday afternoon. The jury was then excused for legal issues to be discussed between the respective parties.