US man accused of air rage to be prosecuted in NI Crown Court
Jet en route from Rome to Chicago diverted to Belfast after alleged demand for snacks
A man accused of an air rage incident on a United Airlines flight from Rome to Chicago is to be prosecuted in the Belfast Crown Court, a judge heard on Tuesday. File photograph: Kevin Moloney/Getty Images
An American man accused of an air rage incident which grounded a transatlantic flight is to be prosecuted in the Crown Court, a judge heard on Tuesday.
At Antrim Magistrates Court, District Judge Alan White told Jeremiah Mathis Thede his preliminary inquiry - the legal step to move his case to the higher Crown Court - is scheduled to take place on 1 September.
Mr Thede, a 42-year-old from The Alameda in Berkeley, California, was appearing via videolink from Maghaberry Prison where he is charged with endangering the safety of the aircraft, disruptive behaviour on board and common assault on June 20th this year.
He is technically on bail, but due to problems obtaining an address which would be acceptable to police, Mr Thede remains in custody, where he has been since the alleged incident.
The United Airlines craft had been en route from Rome to Chicago and the jet had to dump 50,000 litres of fuel before making the unscheduled stop at Belfast International Airport, which is reported to have cost the airline up to £500,000 (€710,000).
As the crew would have exceeded their legal flying hours if the aircraft had recommenced the journey straight away, 282 passengers were forced to wait almost 24 hours before the jet could take off again, with many having to sleep on the terminal floors.
‘Nuts and crackers’
Previous hearings have heard allegations that Mr Thede flew into a rage over demands for “nuts and crackers”, forcing the pilot to divert to Belfast International at Aldergrove after concerns were raised about the man by cabin crew and other passengers.
An officer from the Belfast International Airport Constabulary described how the incident unfolded when Mr Thede allegedly got up 15 minutes after take-off from Rome at a time when the seatbelt lights were still illuminated, demanding “nuts or crackers”.
Mr Thede refused to sit back down again until he obtained a snack and the officer said a member of crew managed to “appease” the passenger by giving him some nuts and he then retook his seat.
However, 10 minutes later he was demanding more nuts and crackers and when told he could only have more if there were packets left from giving his fellow passengers theirs, Mr Thede apparently declared: “I can have as much nuts and crackers as I f****** want.”
Mr Thede is accused of common assault of the air stewardess he was dealing with, but it is accepted that no blow was struck.
After these incidents, crew alerted the captain about Mr Thede’s alleged conduct and he asked for a number of men to sit around the passenger in case he became violent, but chose to divert his aircraft.
Adjourning the case to September 1st, Judge White told Mr Thede that if he managed to perfect his bail in the meantime, he had to appear in court in person or would be produced by prison staff if he remained in custody.