'Air rage' man to be home in six weeks

PORTADOWN man Aiden Mackle could be home in up to six weeks' time after being sentenced to 116 days in jail, or time served, for an air rage incident in which he threatened to blow up a plane.

Mackle (44) appeared in a US District Court on Tuesday, after pleading guilty to charges of interference with a flight crew and assault.

He had been in custody in Bangor, Maine, since an incident on March 1 when he threatened to hijack the plane on which he was a passenger and assaulted an off-duty Delta airline pilot.

US District Judge John Woodcock sentenced Mackle to two years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $20,030 in restitution to Delta Airlines for the cost of diverting the plane to Bangor International Airport.

The court also ordered him to pay a special assessment of $110, which goes to the victims of crime.

With time already served in jail, Mackle is likely to be released and deported within six weeks.

Judge Woodcock said that he found it "highly ironic" that a citizen of Northern Ireland would appear in the federal courtroom where George Mitchell once presided.

The former US Senator brokered the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which paved the way for devolution in Northern Ireland.

The judge said that the airline bore some responsibility for the incident for continuing to serve Mackle alcohol when apparently he was clearly intoxicated.

Mackle, who runs a washing machine repair business from premises off the Dungannon Road, apologised to the court for his behaviour.

trouble

Previous court hearings had been told how the plane was over two hours into its flight from Atlanta to Dublin when the trouble began.

Mackle told a fellow-passenger that he was going to have a cigarette, which is illegal on board a plane. When he was challenged by a flight attendant about the smell of smoke coming from a toilet, he became "verbally abusive" towards her.

She alerted the captain and Mackle then told her he was associated with Osama bin Laden and was going to hijack the plane.

When an off-duty pilot, on the instructions of the pilot, asked Mr Mackle to calm down and warned him they would have to land the plane, Mackle responded, "Okay, I'm a terrorist. Go ahead and land the plane".

The captain made a decision to turn the plane around and land at the nearest airport. As attempts were being made to calm Mackle down, he allegedly punched the off-duty pilot before being restrained with handcuffs.

He then threatened to blow up the Delta 767 airliner, which had 185 passengers on board.

The court also heard that Mackle, who had been visiting his sister in San Diego, had drunk three or four small bottles of wine shortly after the plane took off, and that passengers noticed he was being loud and swearing, both while boarding and at the start of the flight.