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Ulster man's drunk rampage on passenger jet

By Deborah McAleese

On a routine flight en route to Belfast a drunk passenger becomes violent, shouting, hurling cups, lashing out..then a police officer returning from his holiday steps forward



It is every air passenger’s worst nightmare. A drunken traveller turns violent, abuses passengers and physically attacks cabin crew before threatening to open the emergency door and get off the plane while it is 40,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

Men, women and children on board a flight from New York to Belfast were terrorised for five hours by a drunk and violent passenger who went on the rampage, attacking cabin crew, screaming abuse, throwing items around the plane and threatening to get out of the aircraft mid-flight.

The man was eventually apprehended by the chairman of the Police Federation, PSNI Sergeant Terry Spence, who wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him.

Francis Paul Steenson, who had been drinking for 24 hours when he boarded the Continental Airlines flight from Newark airport on March 26, has now been told by a District Judge he should never be allowed to fly again as he received a five-month suspended sentence.

The terror in the skies began two hours into the seven-hour flight from Newark to Belfast.

An already drunk Steenson — who was also drinking wine on the flight — began walking up and down the aisle shouting abuse at passengers, telling them to “get out” of his seat, even though they were sitting in their own.

He became more abusive when cabin crew asked him to calm down. Steenson’s behaviour became more erratic and aggressive and he started throwing cups and drinks at other passengers.

Just over an hour away from Belfast the 55-year-old, from Dunlewey Street in the city, then jumped up screaming that he wanted off the flight and threatened to open the emergency door, which was located close to him.

He then lashed out at a female and male member of the cabin crew, grabbing the man by the throat.

Now concerned for the safety of passengers and crew, Mr Spence, who was returning from a holiday in New York, got up and identified himself as a police officer. Steenson punched out at Mr Spence who was forced to tackle him to the floor of the aircraft and restrain him.

At this stage several passengers, some with young children, fled from their seats to the back of the aircraft.

Steenson continued kicking out and shouting abuse, screaming at Mr Spence: “Who the f*** do you think you are? Bruce Willis?” Eventually Mr Spence was able to handcuff Steenson and he was restrained in a row of seats that had been cleared of passengers.

He continued to be verbally abusive to passengers and crew until the plane touched down in Belfast and he was escorted off by Airport Police.

Antrim Crown Court was told this week it was “very fortunate” that Mr Spence was on the flight and intervened as many passengers, including small children, were terrified.

District Judge Robert Alcorn told Steenson that if it was up to him he would never permit him to board another flight again.

“At 40,000 feet, in a confined space of an aircraft, you left a lot of people terrified. If I had any way of stopping you I would stop you flying for the rest of your life. If I had been a passenger I would not have been best pleased, having paid that fare, to have to put up with that for five hours,” he said.

A defence lawyer told the court that Steenson is an alcoholic who travelled to the US to see his girlfriend.

He said Steenson is ashamed of what happened and that since the incident has been attending Alcoholic Anonymous in a bid to “turn his life around”.

The lawyer said it is unlikely Steenson will be allowed back into the US.

District Judge Alcorn sentenced Steenson to five months in jail, but suspended it for three years “in recognition of the efforts you are making to turn your life around”.

He warned him, however: “If you commit any offences, it doesn’t matter what they are, during the next three years, you will be jailed for the five months you have clocked up.

“It is my policy to put suspended sentences into operation, it doesn’t matter to me one bit. If you behave yourself then you will not have to go to prison.

“I hope you will be able to turn your life around.”

Steenson was also ordered to pay a total of £475 compensation to the two cabin crew members he assaulted and was fined £500 for behaving in a disruptive manner on board an aircraft, and using threatening language.

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