A British holidaymaker who punched and cracked an aeroplane window at 35,000ft walked free from a Manchester court today.
Former soldier Nicholas Whittaker, 44, was on a flight from Florida to Manchester packed with families who had enjoyed breaks at Disney World and Universal Studios when he began arguing with his partner after drinking Jack Daniels whiskey.
He was repeatedly told by cabin crew to calm down but after the lights were dimmed so passengers could sleep and watch films they heard a ‘loud bang’ at around 5.30am and saw the inner window of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was cracked.
He then told horrified passengers, ‘I’m sorry for upsetting everybody, I’m not a terrorist’.
The lights were switched on and Whittaker, a father-of-two who had been holidaying in America for two weeks, was said to be sitting in his seat with his head in his hands, Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court heard.
Two young children in the seats behind were so scared they were physically sick and shaking, and many passengers described fearing for their safety in witness statements to the police.
Minshull Street Crown Court heard that if the external window had also been cracked, the consequences could have been ‘catastrophic’ and may have led to babies or small children being sucked out of the aircraft.
When the pilot was alerted to the melee, he considered diverting the aircraft to Ireland or Iceland, but decided to continue with the journey as the inner pane is solely used for cosmetic purposes and the aircraft was not in danger.
Whittaker of Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, pleaded guilty to recklessly acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft and was given to four months in prison, suspended for 12 months.
He was also given a supervision order of six months and ordered to pay compensation for the window of £311 and £580 costs.
After the hearing, Whittaker wept as he apologised for his behaviour, denied he had been drinking and said he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time in the army.
He said he could remember playing a game with his partner Clare Houston before he lost a gum shield used to stop his teeth grinding as a result of medication, and then suffered a blackout.
“It should never have happened,” he said. “Kids coming back from seeing Mickey Mouse are now going to remember me. I think I’m still in shock because this behaviour isn’t me.
“If I could apologise to each and every one of the passengers and crew I would. I wish I could undo what I have done but they will never get that memory back of that fantastic holiday back, it will have been ruined at the end.”
Earlier, the court heard that the captain of the flight from Florida’s Stanford Airport – which was carrying 263 holidaymakers – was informed there may be a ‘problem passenger’ on board not long after take-off.
Prosecutor Miss Nicola Wells said: “During the flight the passenger sitting next to the defendant indicated that he saw him drink four mini bottles of Jack Daniels and he looked like a nervous flyer.
“The defendant was having a domestic with Clare Houston, pointing in her face with his finger. It was described that the defendant would get frustrated then calm himself down, then was shouting and swearing and said ‘fuck off’.”
A mother with her two children sitting behind Whittaker became concerned by his behaviour and told cabin crew, who in turn temporarily separated him from Miss Houston so they could calm down.
She added: “Fifteen minutes later the lights dimmed within the aircraft and passengers were sleeping or watching films. They then heard a loud bang and the defendant had struck the plane window, causing it to crack.
“The lights were switched on and the defendant was described as sitting with his head in his hands on his seat. He was warned about his conduct, and during this was given coffee and it was explained there were children on board who he was frightening.
“He was told if he didn’t calm down the police would have to be called. He appeared to respond and apologised repeatedly but while apologising appeared intoxicated. The cabin crew spoke to him and felt he had a mood disorder because he was up and down.
“The defendant then sat up and apologised to the passengers. He said ‘I’m sorry for upsetting everybody, I’m not a terrorist’. He was described as saying this numerous times. The defendant then sat down and behaved himself for the remainder of the flight.”
In mitigation defence counsel Mr Ciaran Rankin said: “This clearly crosses the custody threshold. This is an event which, if not terrifying to all, was at least terrifying to some.
“Notwithstanding the captain’s reassurances of the integrity of the plane, that is not something that would have been known to the defendant, nor anybody witnessing what was going on. He says he experienced a blackout but accepts all the material put before the court.”
Passing sentence the judge Recorder Mr Simon Hilton told Whittaker: “At one point matters escalated to when you struck the internal window and cracked it. People who travel on planes are not experts, they don’t know how planes stay in the air and the sight of the window being cracked must have been terrifying.”
Story via Cavendish Press.
Image courtesy of Pranav, with thanks.