A Dutch trainee driving instructor, who caused "pandemonium" on an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin when he made a hoax coronavirus claim, has been given a two-month prison sentence.
Former boat captain and ski instructor, Job van den Broek, 30, with addresses at Parklaan No 3, 5462cv, and in Veghel, in the Netherlands pleaded guilty on Thursday to an air-rage charge after he had delayed Wednesday's flight EI 605 from Amsterdam because he would not end a phone call.
He was flying to Ireland to get a connecting flight to Los Angeles to propose to his girlfriend, Judge Conal Gibbons heard at Dublin District Court.
Sentencing, he said Van den Broek thought there were special rules for him and he told a fiction to the flight attendant that his mother had the coronavirus.
The accused buried his head in his hands as the sentence was handed down.
However, the business graduate was granted appeal bail, which he took up soon after the hearing.
Van den Broek refused to get off his phone after cabin crew pleaded with him to finish his call so they could give the standard flight safety demonstration.
He later lied to cabin crew telling them that he reason he was using his phone was because his mother had the virus and he had been in contact with her. He would not deny if he had it too, the court was told.
Cabin crew were reduced to tears and pandemonium broke out among passengers.
Judge Conal Gibbons said his crime was unbelievable while the world was in a state of fear and anxiety because of Covid-19.
He described the case as “the most exceptional of exceptional circumstances”.
The plane touched down at Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2 at 1.49pm on Wednesday. It had arrived 21 minutes ahead of schedule and was put into quarantine for a HSE inspection to be carried out as a result of the scare.
The World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 a pandemic.
The outbreak has so far claimed the life of one Irish woman as the number of cases continues to rise.
Van den Broek was charged that being a person on an Aer Lingus aircraft in flight, within the jurisdiction of the State, he engaged in behaviour of threatening, abusive or insulting nature, whether by words or gesture.
The charge also stated this was to cause a breach of the peace or being reckless as to whether a breach of the peace might have been occasioned.
He was held overnight and brought before Judge Conal Gibbons on Thursday.
Defence solicitor Michael French confirmed his client was pleading guilty.
Det Garda Gary Dillane told the court that Mr Van den Broek made no reply when he was charged just after 7.30pm on Wednesday.
He said Van den Broek had been travelling on EI 605 to Dublin. There was an issue on board flight “which caused hassle for cabin crew a number of times”.
He refused to get off his mobile phone as cabin crew were giving the safety demonstration to passengers. He was told he was delaying the aircraft because it could not take off until the demonstration was given.
The court heard that mid-flight he asked to speak with the flight attendant to explain to her why he had been on his phone.
He told the crew his mother had the coronavirus and he had been in contact with her but he did not live with her.
Cabin crew began crying and passengers overheard and it caused upset, disruption and inconvenience.
When the plane landed gardaí had to be called and arrived at “a hostile situation on the aircraft”.
The HSE had to be contacted and carried out an inspection and cleared the aircraft and declared the passengers, including the accused, were safe.
The court heard Van den Broek thought it was a joke and wanted to have his photo taken with gardaí and HSE staff.
In evidence, Van den Broek, who had no prior convictions, told the court he was sorry and wanted to clear the air with the Aer Lingus staff, who refused to accept his remorse.
He claimed he had been trying to tell the attendant “it was a personal call and I mentioned she could have coronavirus”.
Defence solicitor Michael French pleaded for leniency citing his client’s previous good record and the ramifications of a conviction for him such as obtaining a visa or police vetting
He also asked the judge to note Van den Broek was co-operative with gardaí and had already spent a night in custody and was apologetic.
He said his client had been on a personal phone call from his mother but when the incident escalated he did not confirm he had Covid-19 “but he did not deny it either”.
It was incredibly stupid and he had not realised the serious gravity of his actions, Mr French said.
However, he was willing to donate €1,500 to the staff.
Sentencing, Judge Gibbons said he did not accept that he could buy his way out of trouble.
The judge said: “There would be one more worse thing to say on a plane, that there is a bomb under the seat”.
Judge Gibbons noted from the flight attendant’s report that she tried for 10 minutes to get Van den Broek off his phone and she had found him to be difficult and rude.
He remarked that his actions were designed to put fear and anxiety into the minds of people on the plane.
In-flight rules had to be obeyed 100 per cent of the time, he said.
The offence can carry a four-month jail sentence as well as a fine of almost €900.
He said a first offence should only result in a custodial sentence in exceptional circumstances and this was one.
However, he set appeal bail in his own bond of €1,000.
Legal aid was also granted.
The offence is contrary to sections 2A of the Air Navigation and Transport Act, 1973, as amended by insertion of section 65 of the Air Navigation and Transport Amendment Act, 1998.