UPDATE, April 25, 2016: After a two-week trial, Jeremiah Thede, the Berkeley man accused of forcing the diversion of an airplane in June 2015, was found not guilty of endangering an aircraft. His Northern Ireland-based lawyer, Patrick Madden of Madden & Finucane Solicitors, said in an April 15 statement: “Mr Thede was acquitted by unanimous verdict after just thirty minutes of deliberations. He is relieved to have his name cleared after being held in this jurisdiction for ten months. His passport has now been returned and he looks forward to returning home to his family and friends in California. This was an unusual but important case because the prosecution case and the decision to divert the flight was based on misinterpretations and inaccurate statements from the cabin crew.” Madden added that the law firm is now considering legal proceedings against United Airlines.
ORIGINAL STORY: A Berkeley man forced a United Airlines flight from Rome to divert to Belfast, Ireland, on Saturday after he grew aggressive en route, according to the airline, over nuts and crackers.
The captain of the Chicago-bound plane decided to land in Belfast, dumping 50,000 liters of fuel first as a precautionary measure, after flight attendants reported that the behavior of Jeremiah Mathias Thede, 42, appeared threatening.
Thede, a dual Italian and American citizen, was charged with endangering the safety of the plane, disorderly conduct and assaulting a cabin crew member, according to the BBC. He was due to appear before magistrates Tuesday and remains in custody in Belfast.
About 15 minutes into the flight, Thede, who reportedly lives on The Alameda in Berkeley, was out of his seat while the seatbelt light was on, and refused to return to his seat until he was given another helping of snacks, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Thede again rose from his seat 10 minutes later and demanded more snacks, becoming increasingly belligerent. Witnesses reported that Thede frightened passengers when he became abusive to flight attendants, blocked the aisle and took out overhead luggage. He also repeatedly got up and went to the bathroom, according to media reports.
The BBC reported that cabin crew alerted the captain, who made the decision to land the plane, with its estimated 280 passengers, in Belfast as they neared the Atlantic Ocean.
Passengers were forced to wait in Belfast overnight, many sleeping on the floor of the airport until flights were able to get them to Chicago on Sunday.
MSNBC spoke with passengers, upon their arrival at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, who said Thede was “cussing swearing, and getting in the personal space,” of a cabin crew member.
Mashable reported that passengers were refunded for the flight, reimbursed for additional connecting flights they might have had, and were given the option of either a travel certificate or miles for United Airline’s MileagePlus loyalty program for their next journey.
Media reports indicate that the cost to the airline of the whole episode could amount to more than $500,000.
The airline apologized to its customers for what happened.
The BBC reported that Northern Ireland police officer William Robinson said Thede claimed there was a conspiracy against him.
Emily Dugdale, a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, MA, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside.
Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out All the News.