Ex-councillor criticises Jet2 for allowing drunk passengers on his Belfast flight
A former deputy mayor has questioned why "heavily intoxicated" passengers were allowed to board a Belfast-bound flight which was forced to make an emergency landing.
Former Larne DUP councillor Drew Niblock (54) was returning from a winter holiday on Saturday when his flight from Tenerife to Belfast International Airport was forced to touch down in Spain.
"It was obvious that these two men were drunk at the gate," he said.
"The biggest question is why they were allowed on in the first place - I think everyone was surprised by that."
Mr Niblock said he knows from speaking to Jet2 staff that they were aware of concerns before boarding began.
"They had brought the men to the attention of the captain, but nothing was done," he said.
"The men were very abusive to cabin crew and other passengers who were sitting close to them - a female cabin crew member was in tears."
Mr Niblock described how the "loud and obnoxious" men received numerous warnings before the flight captain decided to land in Santiago, Spain, around 90 minutes into the flight so they could be disembarked.
Video footage of the incident shows the men being escorted off the plane by Spanish police - one of the culprits can be seen being physically apprehended during an altercation outside the cockpit door.
"One of the men was actually trying to pacify his friend in the air, but as soon as the police got on to get him off, he became abusive and was demanding to get off as well," Mr Niblock said.
"From what I could tell they only had paperwork for one of them, but the other one didn't last too long once he became aggressive.
"He was whisked off pretty quickly."
The flight eventually touched down at 9.20pm almost three hours later than scheduled.
While it was not the end to a 12-day golfing break that Mr Niblock anticipated, he said his sympathy is with the many children who on board.
"What these men were saying was absolutely horrendous," he added.
"They had no regard whatsoever for anyone."
The inconvenienced traveller said "God only knows what could have happened" without the intervention of "amazing" staff, but claimed the entire situation was avoidable.
Local makeup artist Paddy McGurgan, who was also on the flight, described the men as "heavily intoxicated" as he described how they were "threatening and abusive" to staff in front of small children.
A spokesperson for Jet2.com said the "illicit consumption of duty free alcohol on the aircraft was a significant factor" in the "appalling" incident.
"We will fully assist the authorities with any subsequent investigations and will prosecute where necessary," he added.
"The welfare and safety of our crew and our customers is our number one priority, and as a family friendly airline we will not tolerate this behaviour."