Saturday 21 September 2019

Fighter jets scramble to escort passenger plane after man caused disturbance 'hallucinating about butterflies'

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Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

A Turkish man caused a disturbance on a flight to Honolulu after hallucinating that he was chasing a butterfly.

Two fighter jets were scrambled to escort the flight to its destination on Hawaii after Anil Uskanli walked to the front of the plane with a blanket over his head, holding a laptop which the flight crew thought contained explosives.

Uskanli, 25, told a Honolulu federal court a butterfly pocket of the seat in front of him and that he followed it, attempting to kill it by throwing punches.

He accepted he was ill and hallucinating on the American Airlines flight from Los Angeles on May 19.

The captain of the plane initiated so-called "bomb threat" procedures after Uskanli carried the laptop as he walked down the aisle with a blanket on his head.

He raised other red flags while still at Los Angeles International Airport, but experts said a lack of communication and an airline's hesitancy to be caught on video removing a passenger played a role in allowing him to fly.

In April, a United Airlines incident in which a passenger was dragged off an overcrowded plane drew widespread attention.

Uskanli had purchased a ticket at an airline counter in the middle of the night with no luggage and was arrested ahead of the flight to Hawaii after opening a door to a restricted airfield.

Airport police said he smelled of alcohol but was not intoxicated enough to be charged with public drunkenness, so he was given a citation and released.

After the flight landed in Honolulu and Uskanli was arrested, a judge ordered a mental competency evaluation at the request of his defence attorney.

He was sent to a federal detention facility in Los Angeles to undergo the evaluation.

Assistant US Attorney Morgan Early argued that he should be held without bail because he is a danger to the community and suffers from a "major mental illness".

US Magistrate Judge Kenneth Mansfield ruled that he was competent for trial and must be held without bail.

Uskanli pleaded guilty and faces deportation proceedings, but he plans to return to Turkey on his own, immigration attorney Gary Singh said.

He added: "He just wants to go home. He's sick and wants to go home to get help."

Uskanli faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to 250,000 US dollars (£188,000).

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