Over 100 passengers onboard an Air Canada flight to Barbados are breathing a collective sign of relief tonight after a male passenger’s mutterings turned out to be nothing more than several idle threats.
However, the 66-year-old passenger had to be restrained before he was handed over to police on arrival at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA).
The ordeal began about 90 minutes after flight AC1966 took off from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport at 8:35 a.m. with 114 passengers on board for the five-hour journey.
About an hour-and-a-half into the journey the passenger, who was described by Air Canada officials as “unruly”, and by Barbadian police as “disruptive”, began pacing the isle and muttering threats.
Astree Breedy, who was seated directly behind the passenger, told Barbados TODAY that she was asleep for the first part of the flight, during which time “other persons were seeing that he was walking up in the isle muttering and he had a candle in his hand – just not lit”.
However, Breedy said what jolted her and other passengers into action was when “he went back to his seat saying, ‘If you are not Bajan get off the flight’.
“He said he is going to divert the plane. He was just muttering a lot of stuff,” Breedy said, also recalling that she was told to move from her seat because the passenger in question had to be restrained.
“When I was moving, he was cursing me and shouting at me and using foul language, so I moved out,” she told Barbados TODAY.
However, she made it clear that he was not physically violent, even though his words were threatening.
“At one point he was talking about ISIS [the international terrorist group] and bombs, so it was really what he was saying,” Breedy said.
“To me, it seemed like it could be more mental illness than an actual threat,” she added, pointing out that once restrained, the man was quiet for the rest of the flight.
Up to late this evening, police still had not released the name of the passenger, even as they sought to quell any fears among Barbadians that ISIS had already touched down here.
Nevertheless, emergency services, including the police, fire officials and medical personnel were fully activated as the authorities were taking no changes with the flight carrying the “disruptive” passenger.
After the flight landed around 1:40 p.m., it would be another two hours or more before passengers would be allowed to disembark, adding to the shock and awe already experienced by the 113 other passengers and crew who were taken off guard.
Admittedly, the ordeal was “a little nerve wrecking” for Sharon Straker.
“I didn’t know what was going on. I just saw the gentleman pacing back and forth and I was in and out of sleep when I heard the announcement on PA system when they said that there was an incident and they are taking care of it.
“As I looked back, he was probably three seats behind me.Then I saw that they were attempting to restrain him and he was getting irate, so it was a little scary with everything that is going on in the world today,” Straker said in reference to the threat of terrorism.
Still she never expected to encounter such, “especially coming home”, so “it was a little scary to be honest”.
However, Justin Harrison, who was headed back home from Montreal, could be considered one of the “heroes” of the flight.
From his vantage point at Seat 37 D, he too had noticed the strange behaviour of the passenger, who was seated four rows up from him.
Harrison said not only did the passenger walk up and down the plane with an object in hand, but was saying “weird things” as he read from a book.
“He said many times he had a bomb and that we are going to die,” Harrison told Barbados TODAY.
It was then that he and some other passengers approached the flight attendants and offered to help to restrain the passenger.
“They came to us and said, ‘sure we need your help now’ and we tied him up, strapped him up.
“We were very gentle. He was aggressive, but we were able to get it done.”
Harrison said after that the passenger was very cooperative.
However, since the drama unfolded about three and a half hours out, he said the ugly episode seemed like it would never end, especially for those like him who were admittedly “nervous”.
Other passengers onboard the Airbus 321 – which seats 185 passengers – including Charles McKenzie, 44, said they didn’t realize what was happening until the episode was almost over, but McKenzie was happy that as it turned out, “it was only a threat and it didn’t develop into anything further”.
Still, “it does make you realize how easy something like that could happen,” he added.
However, both McKenzie and Harrison complained about the more than two-hour wait at GAIA. To add to their ordeal, they were made to sit in a bus on the tarmac in the scorching heat with doors closed until they complained about how hot it was. Harrison said it was simply “ridiculous”, given that they were also deprived of any information at the time.
Siean Bradshaw, who is visiting family here, also complained about the long wait at the Barbados airport, even though he seemed to take everything else in stride.
“The worst part was the wait,” said Bradshaw, who expressed compassion for the alleged perpetrator, saying, “I feel bad for him . . . I think he was just very old and maybe just not completely there in his senses,”
Another passenger, who did not want to be identified by name but said she had been out of the island for six months said: “Honestly, I didn’t think it was serious until we landed.”
However, she was happy to be back home and was looking forward to some rest and some Bajan fast food.
“I want to go home and sleep. I want some food. I want Chefette. That’s all I want,” she told reporters who greeted her at the arrivals hall.
Air Canada officials were very short on information today about the incident, as they left Barbadian officials to do the explaining.
In response to an emailed query from Barbados TODAY, Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the airline, responded saying:
“Hello, a passenger became unruly today on flight AC1966, an Airbus A321, travelling from Toronto to Barbados with 114 passengers onboard. Authorities met the aircraft after it landed and as a precautionary measure officials performed a full search of the airplane. Passengers have now been transferred to the terminal where our customer service agents are taking care of them.
“As this is now a police matter I am sorry but we are unable to comment further.”
Later, Joseph Johnson, the Chief Operating Officer at GAIA Inc, confirmed to reporters that the call was received about a passenger making a disturbance, who had to be restrained.In response, police, fire and medical personnel were called in anticipation of the flight, which was eventually parked in the disabled parking area.
“The passenger was removed and handed over to police,” said Johnson, who also informed that the return flight had been cancelled for today and that displaced passengers were due to be accommodated tomorrow morning on a 10 a.m. flight.
Police also issued a statement this evening saying they were continuing investigations into the matter after security measures were put in place and a thorough search conducted.
“Nothing was found that would cause further alarm or distress. The identified male passenger was detained. No reports of any harm to the crew or passengers,” the brief
police statement said.