Category: Archive

Plane donnybrook grounds Irish family

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe and Harry Keaney

DUBLIN — A dozen members of an extended London-Irish family who forced a holiday jet to land in the U.S. after allegations of a brawl at 37,000 feet say they will sue the holiday firm involved, which in turn is threatening to sue them.

The Boeing 767, with 325 people on board, had to divert from its London-to-Jamaica flight on Sunday to land at Norfolk, Va., after crew members said they became concerned that a situation was getting out of control.

As the Echo went to press on Tuesday, the group was having lunch in the airport restaurant and was free to leave Norfolk as soon as they could finalize arrangements to do so. However, it is believed the group, members of the Connors and O’Driscoll families, might face arrest on return to Britain.

What exactly happened on the flight 50 miles off the U.S. coast is subject to dispute. Amid the confusion, members of the group have protested their innocence.

Wayne Shank, deputy executive director of Norfolk Airport Authority, told the Echo that when the airplane landed, the captain asked the airport police to come on board and escort 12 passengers off.

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The FBI and local U.S. Attorneys office were also contacted, but the authorities decided not to prosecute the group, Shank said.

An FBI spokesperson told the Echo that that agency was not involved in the matter any longer once it was decided not to press federal charges.

"They are now in this country, they are in the airport since Sunday afternoon," Shank said.

He added that they had been cleared by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"Our business is to own and operate airports, we are not a travel agency, a hotel or a lending agency. However, we are humanitarian," he said, pointing out that one of the passengers was given treatment for a minor medical condition on Tuesday morning.

Shank said it was up to the group to make their own arrangements to get out of Norfolk and he had heard reports that they might be returning to London or continuing onto Jamaica. "I think these people are looking at their financial resources and options. We are electing to let these people resolve the problem on their own," he said.

There had been reports that a British news agency had put the group up in a hotel on Monday night.

Shank said he deplored any activity that would interfere with a flight and he applauded the captain of the plane for taking the decision to land. However, he also pointed out that the group had not caused any problems once it landed at Norfolk. "We have no behavioral problem from these people," he said.

Diversion costs

The holiday company, Airtours, has issued a statement saying it is considering legal action against the group. The cost of diverting the flight, including fuel and landing charges, is believed to have been £15,000 to £20,000.

"We will take action against people who behave like this because we are determined to stamp it out. We will not tolerate behavior of this sort affecting other people and the safety of the aircraft," Airtours spokesman Capt. David Parsons said.

Catriona Connors O’Driscoll was not apologetic when she spoke to RTE from Virginia.

"We’re the victims," she said. "They’re gone on to Montego Bay to enjoy their holiday and we’re out; between 12 of us, we must be out £20,000."

She claimed a passenger got upset about noise and singing in their group.

"My brother-in-law went to the toilet and as he got up from the toilet, he was yapping, saying you are very loud and it’s ridiculous," she said.

"Irish paddies this, that and the other, calling us names and that. The bloke was coming out with dirty chat about my sister. And my sister’s husband was saying leave it at that now, you’ve no need to talk about my wife like that.

"You know the way the Irish are about strictness about things like that. He took that to heart and the minute he said that he threw the drink straight on top of him . . . a simple little argument, a bit of a misunderstanding that was on the plane and that is what happened."

She said the plane’s cabin crew had asked them to calm down a bit.

"They did once," O’Driscoll said, "but not to the 12 of us, to a couple of us. You can’t blame 12 for one person’s doings."

"All the blacks was left on the plane, the people who caused it, and all the Irish were thrown off and all our luggage is in Montego Bay," she said.

Connors O’Driscoll said her group had done nothing wrong and the company’s threat to sue them was an attempt to justify its decision to eject them from the plane.

"What is the charge? We didn’t do anything. It is for singing? Enjoying ourselves? We wasn’t fighting, we wasn’t rowing, we didn’t do anything," she said. "If there was anything done the captain would have pressed charges there and then wouldn’t he?

"Airtours have got to come up with something because they dropped us off high and dry. They took on our luggage, canceled our holiday, they have to come up with something, don’t they?"

Governments and airlines worldwide are considering a blacklist of known "air rage" offenders following a series of recent incidents.

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