A former flight attendant caused terror on a North East-bound flight when he told cabin crew he wanted to end his life and tried to open the rear door of the aircraft.
Joseph Hemmingway, 28, was on a Jet 2 flight from Madeira to Newcastle and had been drinking heavily when he started behaving erratically, leaving passengers ‘scared for their lives’.
Hemmingway had told airline staff he used to work for British Airways and they were petrified he would succeed in opening the aeroplane’s door because of his aviation knowledge.
Newcastle Crown Court heard Hemmingway had started chatting to experienced cabin crew, who ‘had never been as scared and shocked’, about his former work half way through the flight on August 4.
Around 10 minutes later he approached the rear of the plane and told two female members of the crew that he wanted to move seats, as his neighbours were watching a TV show which showed people taking crystal meth.
Hemmingway said this was offensive to him, as his boyfriend had died as a result of taking the drug.
He then showed the women a letter from his backpack which was addressed to his boyfriend Lee, which it said he wanted to “join him”.
Cabin crew then saw him take at least three and possibly six valium tablets and swallow them.
Alarmed, they made the pilot aware that they had a problem with a passenger on board.
Hemmingway then drank from the cabin crew’s water bottles and told them that he had Aids.
After attempting to get to the cockpit to speak to the pilot, Hemmingway tried to open the rear door of the plane, and terrified crew were concerned that his flight experience would mean he would succeed.
An off-duty police officer on board, who was returning from a family holiday, wrestled Hemmingway to the ground and restrained him with the help of another male passenger.
Claire Anderson, prosecuting, said: “This happened with around 15 minutes until landing.
“In high altitudes it is impossible to open the plane door, but the plane was descending and therefore in low altitudes.
“With his experience, there was a real concern.”
Another off-duty police officer stepped in to help restrain Hemmingway, but he then tried to bite them.
Despite the fact that Hemmingway and those who were restraining him were out of their seats, the pilot made the decision to land the plane.
Police were waiting on the tarmac and Hemmingway was arrested.
Miss Anderson said: “Mr Hemmingway admitted that he had drank a litre of beer or wine before boarding and then had drank Prosecco on the plane, but denied that this was an excessive amount.
“He also denied that he had tried to open the plane door, and said that because he had a backpack and was of ethnic appearance, people must have over-reacted.”
However, on August 18, Hemmingway pleaded guilty to endangering the safety of an aircraft when he appeared at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court.
Miss Anderson said: “In relation to the cabin crew, they all very experienced, but they stated that they had never been so scared and shocked.
“Some staff are now wary of talking to passengers who speak to them on board.
“With regard to the civilians, they were terrified. They were scared for their lives.
“The wife of one of the off-duty police officers said that it sent shivers down her spine, and that it would take a lot of time for her to get her confidence back when it comes to flying.”
Charles Knowles, defending, said: “There was remorse demonstrated and he has a low risk of future offending.
“It must have been terrifying, and there is no way to get away from that.
“The fact that there was no injury caused is a bonus, but that does not take away from the fact that passengers and crew would have found this experience frightening.”
Mr Knowles said that due to the loss of his partner among other issues such as suffering from Aids and Asperger’s Syndrome, Hemmingway uses alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism and that is what caused this meltdown.
He added: “He is genuinely remorseful for what he has done and it was totally out of character.
“He is looking forward to being able to deal with the problems he has had and put them behind him.”
Judge Edward Bindloss jailed Hemmingway, of Heaton Road, Newcastle, for 18 months. He was ordered to pay £180 court costs and £100 victim surcharge.
He told them: “The cabin crew have said that this was a harrowing and traumatic experience for them. One said she had never been so scared in her life.
“I have to take into account several things, such as the fact that you are HIV-positive and attempted to bite people.
“The passengers and crew could not escape you. Flying is stressful enough without this sort of incident for these people returning from their holidays.
“Considering all these matters, it seems to me that an immediate custodial sentence can be justified.”