'It was going to get worse': Toronto city councillor helps restrain passenger on flight
Jackie Dunham and Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, May 17, 2017 9:02AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 17, 2017 9:42PM EDT
An Air Canada flight was diverted earlier this week after a disruptive man had to be restrained by crew members and other passengers, including a Toronto city councillor, when authorities say he attacked the crew with coffee pots and tried to open a cabin door mid-flight.
Air Canada confirmed to CTV News on Wednesday that Air Canada Rouge Flight 1805 from Montego Bay, Jamaica to Toronto diverted to Orlando, Fla. on Monday because of an “unruly passenger.”
Toronto Coun. Michael Thompson said he was on the same flight travelling home to Toronto after a vacation in Jamaica with his mother.. He said the man threatened to throw a hot coffee pot at him while he was trying to assist the crew with calming him down.
According to a federal criminal complaint, the man ran to the back of the plane and grabbed a coffee pot from the galley and was swinging it around.
He then allegedly stated that “it would only take one guy to take the plane down and that he wanted to take everyone with him.”
Thompson said he tried to reason with the man, asking, “Why do you want to do this?”
“He attempted on a number of occasions to go to the door to pull the lever up, and I prevented that from happening,” Thompson told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.
Lise Pujot-Nelson, from Ottawa, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday that she saw the man pacing back and forth at the back of the plane from her seat in the middle of the aircraft. She said she saw him waving around the coffee pot and trying to “pour coffee on people.”
Another woman on the flight, who does not want to be identified, told CTV Toronto that the man was initially sitting in first class but was brought to the back of the plane after he started throwing items around. She said the flight crew offered him an iPad to watch the entertainment channel free of charge.
Air Canada: Door ‘impossible’ to open
Investigators said the passenger swung another coffee pot before he ran to the cabin’s rear exit door and attempted to use the lever to open the door.
“That was probably the longest 45 minutes I’ve been through in quite some time,” passenger Bobbie-Lyn Shank told CTV Toronto. “I was very scared … What ran through my head was, ‘What does he have on him? What is he going to do?’”
Thompson said he and other crew members and passengers repeatedly tried to talk to the man and reason with him but were unsuccessful. He said when the man tried to open the door it was clear they wouldn’t be able to pacify him and took him down.
“I think we had all come to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to get any better. It was going to get worse,” he recalled.
Air Canada said in an emailed statement that even though the man threatened to open the door, it’s “impossible to do during a flight.” Aviation experts say many jets now use plug doors, which use intense cabin pressure to seal exits when a plane is mid-flight.
“He has to pull the door about 10,000 to 15,000 lbs. to open it, which is impossible. There is no man or even group of people that can pull that door open,” said Joseph Yeremian, president of Thermodyne Enginerring Ltd.
Thompson said he assisted crew members and a few other passengers with tying down the man’s arms and legs to a seat with zip ties to restrain him until the plane landed in Orlando.
“We just wanted to get control of the situation because it was obviously a very difficult situation for us that high up in the air,” he said. “We just didn’t know what could have happened.”
The Toronto councillor praised the Air Canada crew for their professionalism and said they did their best to keep calm aboard the plane.
“There were people crying. There were people asking that they land the plane so they could get off and things like that,” Thompson said.
According to Orlando television station WFTV, the FBI were called around 7:30 p.m. local time.
When the plane landed in Orlando, Thompson said authorities came aboard and escorted the man off the aircraft.
Wife: ‘That is not my husband at all’
In a video obtained by CTV News, passengers can be seen clapping and cheering as the man is led off the plane by officials.
Pujot-Nelson said the man didn’t go “willingly” and he had to be carried off the plane by his arms and legs. She said the experience has made her frightened to travel by plane again.
“I’m not sure I’ll ever fly again,” Pujot-Nelson said. “It was pretty scary.”
Thompson said he tried to remain cool-headed during the tense situation.
“We were trying to deal with a person acting very erratically and, in essence, out of control. We had to figure out a way to calmly try to deal with the situation in order to de-escalate the matter,” he said.
Canadian Brandon Michael Courneyea, 33, was arrested by federal agents under a charge of assault or intimidation of a flight crew member and interfering with their job duties, according to the complaint.
None of the allegations against him have been proven in court.
Courneyea’s wife, Amanda Courneyea, told The Canadian Press on Wednesday that his arrest comes as a complete shock. She said her husband is the “kindest, most loving man you’ll ever meet and anybody that knows him will tell you the same thing.”
"That is not my husband at all," she said.
She said her husband travelled from his home in Amherstview, Ontario to Jamaica last week for a vacation. She said his trip plans went awry when he told her locals were threatening his life. She said, as a result, she booked him an earlier flight to return home for Monday when he was originally scheduled to return this Friday.
"My kids are heart-broken and crying, and I'm crying, and we just want him home where he belongs," she said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney Office in Florida confirmed Wednesday that Brandon Courneyea has not yet come before a judge, a step that must take place before he can be indicted on a criminal charge.
With files from CTV Toronto, CP24 and The Canadian Press