Man accused of making threat aboard Sunwing flight 'not at fault,' father says
Kendra Mangione and Sonja Puzic, CTV Toronto
Published Friday, July 25, 2014 10:23AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 25, 2014 10:27PM EDT
The father of a 25-year-old Canadian man whose alleged threats forced a Panama-bound plane to return to Toronto Friday says his son has mental health issues and is “not at fault” for what happened.
In a statement released Friday night, Sadegh Shahi said his son, Ali Shahi, has had “mental issues,” including depression, anorexia and bulimia since he was 16.
“I am sorry for what happened on the flight, but Ali is not at fault. I blame the police and health system,” Shahi said, adding that his son “never got the support that he needed.”
He added that “24 times in the last 3 years we have called police.”
Shahi also said his son, who was escorted off the plane by a tactical team of police officers, “has never been violent but he is never happy. If he says something, he never means it, he can’t help himself.”
He said his son also has a gambling addiction.
Police said Ali Shahi has been charged with mischief to property, mischief interfering with lawful enjoyment of property, uttering threats and endangering the safety of an aircraft. He is scheduled to appear in a Brampton, Ont., courtroom at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
The Sunwing plane was forced to turn around when a passenger said he wanted to bomb Canada, eyewitnesses reported.
Flight 772 departed from Toronto at 7 a.m. Friday, heading toward Panama City with 181 passengers, two infants and a crew of six on board.
Passenger Bettina Bathe told CTV Toronto the incident unfolded not long after takeoff when a flight attendant came by to pass out headsets.
"He basically just tore a strip off her, explaining how expensive the cigarettes are here in Canada, he hates Canada," Bathe said.
"Then he said, with great expression using his hands, 'I just want to bomb Canada.'"
Following procedure, the flight was then diverted back to Toronto's Pearson International Airport, about 45 minutes into the flight, escorted by two U.S. fighter jets.
NORAD confirmed to CTV that two F-16 jets were already in the air for training when they left their exercise to escort Sunwing Flight 772 back to Pearson as a precautionary measure.
It landed safely at Toronto's Pearson around 8:55 a.m., where the flight was met by authorities.
Passenger footage captured armed tactical police officers boarding flight 772 once it landed. The officers pointed their guns and yelled “Heads down! Hands up!” as they boarded the plane.
The passengers were put on another flight Friday afternoon, but that plane had to be diverted to Montego Bay, Jamaica due to a medical emergency on board.
A Sunwing spokesperson confirmed late Friday that flight WG772 landed in Jamaica at 8 p.m. local time after a passenger fainted in the back galley and sustained a minor cut to the head. The passenger was taken to a hospital in Jamaica and the flight was on the ground for about an hour before taking off again.
It was scheduled to arrive in Panama at 10:35 p.m. local time.
‘Extremely frightening’ ordeal
Before the flight 772 passengers boarded another plane in Toronto earlier Friday, one woman said the entire experience was frightening.
“I was in the washroom and when I was trying to come out, the SWAT team shut the door on me and I was there for what it seems like an eternity,” Lorena Karim said. “And all I saw was guns … it was quite scary.”
One security expert said the video footage of tactical officers on the plane further shows that the so-called “SWAT team culture” has gotten “a little bit out of hand.”
John Thompson of the Strategic Capital Intelligence Group said the police response may have been more aggressive than what the situation called for.
“Very few people ever see the police like that and it is extremely frightening,” Thompson told CTV News Channel Friday.
“It used to be where (police) would probably send a couple of detectives on quietly and just hustle the fellow off in a low-key manner. But that sort of style is gone from policing now for about 20, 25 years and I don’t think we’ll see it back.”