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‘Intoxicated’ men from U.K. charged with assault on long-haul flight

Two British passengers were arrested after their flight from Cancún to Manchester was diverted to Maine

(iStock/Washington Post Illustration)
3 min

Two passengers from the U.K. were charged with federal crimes in the United States after causing a flight from Cancún, Mexico, to Manchester, England, to make an unplanned landing in Maine on Monday night.

According to an FBI affidavit filed in United States District Court in Bangor, Anthony Joseph James Kirby and Damien Jake Murphy were both charged with “Interference with Flight Crew or Attendant” and assault following disruptive behavior on TUI Airways flight TOM193 that included drinking alcohol they brought on board, directing racist language at passengers and crew, pushing a flight attendant, and slapping a passenger.

After repeated attempts to manage the passengers failed, the flight carrying approximately 328 passengers was diverted to Bangor International Airport, where authorities removed the two men from the plane and arrested them. A TUI spokesperson confirmed the incident to The Washington Post in an email statement, adding that the flight continued to Manchester shortly after their removal.

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“The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our highest priority, and we have a zero tolerance policy to disruptive behaviour on our flights,” the statement read. The airline says it is continuing to assist the FBI with their investigation.

Attorneys listed for the two men did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

As the agency that has jurisdiction over incidents in U.S. airspace, the FBI was notified of problems on the international flight when the plane was traveling over Florida. The affidavit prepared by special agent Erika Jensen also mentions assistance from the U.S. Air Marshals and the Bangor Police Department.

Red flags emerged before takeoff in Mexico, according to the FBI affidavit. The lead flight attendant told the agency she believed the passengers — along with a third unnamed traveler — were “slightly intoxicated” when they were boarding the plane in Cancún just before 6:30 p.m. EST. The flight attendant reported they told the passengers they would not be served alcohol onboard.

During the flight, the lead flight attendant said she noticed the men becoming rowdy and making loud, aggressive comments, including racial slurs they directed toward an African American passenger. In interviews with the FBI, other passengers reported the men used racist language with passengers and flight attendants.

While the men were refused alcohol by flight attendants, the report alleges they were drinking from a “large bottle (approximately 1.0 Liter to 1.5 Liter in size) of gin” and would not surrender it. Their behavior reportedly escalated: the lead flight attendant said Murphy grabbed her by the elbow and shoved her backward. Other flight attendants reported that Kirby slapped a fellow passenger upon landing in an “unprovoked” attack that involved “multiple strikes” and left a “ringing in his ear.”

No one reported assaults by the third man, who was not arrested or charged.

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Throughout the turmoil, flight attendants said the men were recording their actions with their own phones, and that the captain made several announcements for them to comply with flight crew.

The captain told the FBI that crew and passengers were “terrified,” and decided to land before they began to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The MailOnline obtained a video showing the men being removed by armed officers as passengers yell for them to get off.

As of Dec. 15, 2022, more than 2,300 “unruly passenger” incidents were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration, with 823 so severe they resulted in investigations. Disruptive passengers can face fines of up to $37,000 per violation (and one incident can result in multiple violations) or be sentenced to federal prison.

In response to the rise in unruly passengers, the FAA has levied record fines and imposed a permanent zero-tolerance policy.

Hannah Sampson contributed to this report