Drunk, smoking passengers force plane to turn back under military escort

Two Canadian women are facing charges after authorities say they drank their duty-free alcohol in a plane's bathroom, triggered the fire alarm with a cigarette and got into a fight with each other, forcing a Sunwing flight bound for Cuba to return to Toronto under a military escort.

Police have said Lilia Ratmanski, 25, and Milana Muzikante, 26, have been charged with smoking on board an aircraft and endangering its safety.

The airline said the flight had left Toronto when it was disrupted by "two unruly female passengers".

Sunwing vice-president Janine Chapman said the passengers had consumed a "significant quantity of their duty-free alcohol purchase in the lavatory".

She said they lit a cigarette, triggering the smoke alarm, and "proceeded to get into a physical altercation with each other and made a threat against the aircraft".

NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command) said it scrambled two CF-18 fighter jets based out of Quebec, Canada, to escort Flight 656 back to Toronto.

Major Julie Roberge, a spokeswoman for NORAD, said the CF-18s met the aircraft at the Canadian border and did not venture into American airspace.

She said the pilot had decided to turn the plane around over South Carolina and "that's when NORAD got involved", adding there was no escort in US airspace.

Roberge said the aircraft landed at Toronto's Pearson International airport at about 8.30pm and that the CF-18 escort lasted just four minutes.

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She called the military escort a precautionary measure and a standard procedure in such incidents.

Peel Region Constable Thomas Ruttan said the entire plane "erupted in cheers" when the two were removed from the plane after it arrived back at Pearson.

He said the pair will appear in court for a bail hearing and will also face additional charges including mischief endangering life and uttering threats.

Meanwhile another in-flight outburst caused by a reclined seat caused a US flight to be diverted.

The incident involving an American Airlines flight to be diverted to Boston, is at least the second such incident in the US this week, authorities say.

Passenger Edmund Alexandre became upset after a woman reclined the seat in front of him on the Miami-to-Paris flight, the Suffolk County district attorney's office said.

Alexandre, who's from Paris, continued to be disruptive when a flight crew member attempted to calm him, following the crewman down the aisle and grabbing his arm, authorities said.

Two undercover federal air marshals on the flight then subdued Alexandre and handcuffed him, the US attorney's office said.

Massachusetts state police arrested Alexandre when the diverted plane landed around 10 pm.

Alexandre was taken to a hospital for observation and treatment of pre-existing health issues.

Federal prosecutors said he told authorities he had high blood pressure and diabetes.

Alexandre was charged with interfering with a flight crew and was arraigned at the hospital.

A judge approved his release from custody on his own recognisance until a December hearing.

His attorney didn't return a telephone message seeking comment.

On Sunday, a United Airlines flight diverted to Chicago after two passengers argued over reclining a seat. It has led to a world-wide debate about whether it's ever ok to recline your seat on a long-haul flight. The incident has also thrown a little gadget, called the Knee Defender, into the limelight.

There was no immediate comment from American Airlines about what happened on its Flight 62.

US Airways Group merged with American Airlines last year to form Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Group Inc.

AP

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