International flight diverted to Heathrow Airport after drunken outburst by Norfolk man
14:39 01 April 2014
A Norfolk man who had to be restrained by five cabin crew after a drunken outburst on a Qantas plane bound for Dubai has been jailed for 13 months.
The behaviour of jobless Martin Pitchers, 40, resulted in the Dubai-bound plane having to turn around over Germany and return to Heathrow Airport after an argument between Pitchers and another passenger over a bag escalated into a foul-mouthed confrontation with staff.
The former full-time carer of The Green in Upton, near Acle, smashed a cup holder while shouting and swearing then wielded a piece of the broken wooden shard until he was eventually forcibly sedated.
He pleaded guilty to boarding the Airbus A380, while drunk, on December 9 last year, being drunk on the aircraft and causing criminal damage.
Isleworth Crown Court heard on Friday that Pitchers was travelling to New Zealand to visit his brother and boarded the first leg of the flight with a one litre bottle of vodka of which he had consumed approximately a quarter.
“It was noted that the defendant was drunk and he had to be asked to keep his seat belt on and said he was suffering depression and his medication was in the hold, but seemed co-operative and apologetic,” said prosecutor Zoe Jacob.
She said the remaining vodka was poured away, but trouble started 20 minutes into the flight when another passenger, Chris Shepherd, reached overhead for his own bag and Pitchers shouted at him to leave it alone.
“There was a tussle and the air hostess intervened, but the defendant continued shouting and swearing, lunging towards her face and screaming,” said Miss Jacob.
“Due to his aggressive nature and build it was physically demanding to restrain the defendant and five crew members tried to get him into the business lounge from economy.
“He then became more aggressive and ripped the furnishing off the cup holder and used that to threaten the cabin crew.”
The court heard Pitchers’ fists were clenched and he adopted a “fighting stance” and when eventually placed in a seat and restrained with flexicuffs he kicked out at the cabin crew.
“He was waving his arms around and made threats to kill the crew, who tannoyed for a doctor, who concluded Pitchers needed to be sedated.”
As the doctor checked a carpet burn on the defendants’ forehead the defendant swore at him.
The captain deemed it too dangerous to continue and the flight, with 477 passengers and crew on board, returned to Heathrow at a cost to Qantas of £31,803.
When quizzed by police Pitchers said: “I was silly.”
He admitted taking more medication and drinking four pints of lager shortly before boarding.
His lawyer Michael Orsulik said: “He is genuinely mortified about his behaviour on that flight and says he is deeply ashamed by his actions.
“He has no recollection of boarding the flight or being taken from the aeroplane afterwards and says he is horrified and does not recognise himself in the statements.
“He is a compassionate, caring, calm individual and if he could write to all four hundred-odd people on that plane to apologise he would do so.”
Pitchers treated himself to his first holiday in a decade with financial help from his family and a local authority grant after splitting with his partner of ten years, for whom he was their full-time carer.
Mr Orsulik said: “He took it very badly and was prescribed mood-stabilisers and anti-depressants.
“He drank to help him sleep on the flight and also took some of his medication, but it seems he took too much.
“He wanted to be knocked out during the flight, but it had the opposite effect.”
Recorder Andrew Wright told Pitchers: “There was no escape for the passengers from the alcohol-fueled aggression you showed.”