TORONTO — An Ontario man is in federal custody in the United States after allegedly assaulting members of an Air Canada flight crew and trying to open the door of a plane while it was in flight.
Court documents show Brandon Michael Courneyea was arrested on Monday after his flight from Montego Bay, Jamaica, to Toronto had to be diverted because of a disturbance on board.
The documents allege Courneyea yelled at fellow passengers for looking at him, swung pots full of hot coffee at flight attendants and eventually tried to open the door of the aircraft mid-flight after saying “it would only take one guy to take the plane down.”
The flight was ultimately diverted to Orlando, Fla., where Courneyea was arrested and taken into custody by the FBI.
A criminal complaint against him says he was arrested under a charge of assault or intimidation of a flight crew member and interfering with their job duties, an allegation that has not yet been proven in court.
Courneyea’s wife says his arrest has come as a complete shock, saying his alleged behaviour is not in keeping with the man she knows.
“That is not my husband at all,” she told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview. “There’s a lot more to what brought that on, because my husband is the kindest, most loving man you’ll ever meet. And anybody that knows him will tell you the same thing.”
Amanda Courneyea said her 33-year-old husband headed off to Jamaica last week from his home in Amherstview, Ont., to fulfil a long-held desire to take a vacation there.
She said she had urged him to “cross it off his bucket list,” adding he travelled alone because the couple has five children, many of whom have special needs, and cannot be left in the care of a babysitter.
But Brandon Courneyea’s vacation plans went awry almost immediately, according to his wife, who said he told her that locals were threatening his life.
She arranged for him to move up his flight plans from Friday to Monday, booking him on an Air Canada flight to Toronto that left Montego Bay in the late afternoon.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Courneyea, disruptions began almost as soon as the flight was in the air.
A flight attendant told an FBI investigator that she first heard signs of a “verbal disturbance” shortly after takeoff, though Courneyea soon settled down.
He came to the crew’s attention again, however, when he allegedly began yelling at passengers for “looking at him” and threw a wad of paper at a woman sitting nearby, the complaint said.
Crew members asked Courneyea to move to the back of the plane, but Courneyea allegedly walked erratically through the aircraft, at one point without shoes on.
Eventually, the criminal complaint states, Courneyea entered the back of the plane, picked up a full coffee pot and began swinging it at a flight attendant.
Passengers also found themselves in the path of the coffee pot, according to a Toronto city councillor who happened to be on board the flight.
Coun. Michael Thompson said he had accompanied Courneyea to the back of the plane in order to make sure he wasn’t alone and talk to him if needed. Courneyea asked Thompson to leave him alone before resorting to other measures, Thompson said.
“I had a particular encounter with a hot coffee pot that he was threatening to throw on me,” he said. “I was simply trying to prevent him from taking certain actions that I thought would perhaps endanger the safety of the plane.”
The criminal complaint outlines those actions in more detail.
“A fellow passenger attempted to calm Courneyea however, these attempts were futile,” it reads. “Courneyea then stated that it would only take one guy to take the plane down and that he wanted to take everyone with him.”
After grabbing another full coffee pot, Courneyea allegedly dove for the back exit and tried to pull up a lever to open the door.
The complaint said both crew and passengers jumped in to restrain Courneyea and eventually bound his arms and legs to a seat using zip ties.
Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said Courneyea’s efforts to open a door mid-flight would not have succeeded, saying it’s “impossible to do during flight.”
She said crew followed standard procedures for dealing with unruly passengers, adding the airline would not offer further comment as the incident is now a police matter.
Many commercial aircraft use what are known as plug doors that are sealed by the pressure inside the plane and must be pulled inward before they can be opened.
Boeing has been quoted as saying the air pressure inside a plane at cruising altitude is much greater than the pressure outside, “and that pressure differential makes it impossible to open the door, even if somebody wanted to do such a thing.”
Amanda Courneyea said she has not been allowed to speak to her husband since his arrest, adding his absence is taking a toll on her and her family.
“My kids are heart-broken and crying, and I’m crying, and we just want him home where he belongs,” she said.
Amy Filjones, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Florida, said Brandon Courneyea must come before a judge to be indicted on a criminal charge, adding that has not yet taken place. She would not comment on whether Courneyea would be released.
Consular officials are in contact with U.S. authorities to gather additional information and are assisting the Canadian citizen detained, Global Affairs Canada said Wednesday.
Spokeswoman Kristine Racicot said no further information will be released, citing privacy reasons.
—With files from The Associated Press
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press