'€3.50 for the wine? I'll set off a bomb on your airplane'
AN AIRLINE passenger's threat to bring a plane down with a bomb over the Atlantic was triggered by a demand that he pay €3.50 for a small bottle of wine, a court heard yesterday.
At Ennis Circuit Court, Judge Donagh McDonagh imposed a jail term of two years and three months on Dutch national Jorge Flores (44) for knowingly causing a false alarm by stating that he had a bomb on board the Boeing 767 flight on January 13 last.
The plane had departed from Amsterdam's Schipol Airport with 231 passengers on board. It was bound for Aruba in the Caribbean but Flores's bomb claim prompted the captain to divert to Shannon Airport.
Judge McDonagh suspended the final year of the jail term and Flores will serve 12 months as he has been on remand since January.
Counsel for the State, Stephen Coughlan, said that the costs to the Dutch airline Arkefly of diverting and securing a replacement aircraft totalled €90,040.
Garda Sgt Michael O'Connor told the court yesterday that the request that Flores pay €3.50 for the bottle of wine "triggered" his threat that he had a bomb on board.
He said Flores had 80 previous convictions, with a mixture of drug, assault and public-order offences and "pages" of road-traffic convictions.
Throughout yesterday's one- hour hearing, Flores cried and trembled. However, Judge McDonagh said that he was "not impressed by Flores's behaviour in court", adding: "Tears do nothing where I am concerned."
Sgt O'Connor told the court that Flores told passengers he was "going to bring the plane down" after stating that he had a bomb while walking up and down the aisle.
In the incident, which lasted 25 minutes, Flores "was quite insulting to cabin crew staff and called one coloured member a 'monkey'."
Mr Coughlan said that after the plane landed at Shannon, Flores was arrested by gardai. A subsequent search of the plane found no bomb.
Counsel for Flores, Elaine Houlihan, said that he had four cans of Heineken and a bottle of wine before he got on the plane and was drunk.
Ms Houlihan said that Flores's threat was on "a spur of the moment". She said: "He didn't realise that he had to pay for the wine. He had flown before when he didn't have to pay."
She said that Flores was en route to Curacao in the Caribbean to visit his father's grave and attend his anniversary Mass. It was unfortunate that the incident with Flores took place two weeks after a man had carried a bomb on a US-bound flight from Schipol, she said.
Imposing sentence, the judge said that Flores "had engaged in reckless behaviour and his attitude to the crew, at the very minimum, was unacceptable, abusive and racist.
"Stating that he had a bomb on board removed this incident from mere boorish behaviour to a heightened level where the safety and security of the crew and passengers was affected.
"In this day and age, a statement on board an aircraft that you have a bomb, that you will blow it up, that you will bring the aircraft down, must be taken seriously by all concerned and ultimately taken seriously by the courts."
Imposing sentence, the judge said that he considered the punishment to be "light". He said that after his release, Flores should be escorted out of the country at the first available opportunity.
Flores was then led away to the holding cell, in tears, by the prison guards.