Sunwing flight returns to Pearson after threat

(William Alphonso/Facebook)

(William Alphonso/Facebook)

, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:27 PM ET

TORONTO -- A plane bound for Panama was escorted by U.S. fighter jets back to Canadian air space Friday after crew reported a passenger allegedly made threats against the aircraft.

Upon landing at Toronto's Pearson Airport, heavily armed tactical officers from Peel Regional Police boarded the plane to arrest a 25-year-old man.

The terrifying ordeal -- the latest in a string of recent nightmares in the sky -- left many passengers badly shaken.

"I was really, really scared," Sharon Ramsay said inside the airport. "I've never experienced anything like this, so I was extremely emotional about it."

She and her family were among the 183 passengers, including two infants, and six crew members on board Sunwing Flight 772 as it took off at 7 a.m. headed for Panama City.

The incident occurred about 45 minutes into the flight, as the plane was over West Virginia.

Ramsay said she wasn't sitting close enough to hear exactly what was said but passengers closer to the accused told her the incident began with an argument between the man and his wife.

"Then he really got out of control and threatened her, and I guess the rest of us in essence," she said.

Sunwing Airlines President Mark Williams issued a statement later explaining "an agitated customer made a direct threat against the aircraft."

"The Sunwing flight crew followed the appropriate procedures and turned the flight around in cooperation with the FAA and Canadian authorities," he said.

No further details of the alleged threat were released.

The crew reported the threat and the decision was made to turn the aircraft around and fly back to Toronto.

Two F-16 fighter jets from the Ohio Air National Guard, based in Toledo, were on a training exercise at the time and were redirected to escort Flight 772 out of U.S. air space, NORAD confirmed.

Ramsay said the scariest part of the ordeal came after the plane touched down at Pearson and tactical officers stormed the cabin with assault rifles, bursting through the front and rear doors.

"We weren't expecting them and they just yelled, 'Hands up, heads down, hands up, heads down,' with their guns drawn," she recalled. "It was very frightening."

Peel Regional Police say they were notified of the in-flight incident just after 8:30 a.m. and tactical officers were dispatched to meet the plane.

"The plane landed safely at 9:02 a.m.," Const. Lilian Fitzpatrick said. "Our officers boarded the plane and a 25-year-old man was taken into custody."

She said the remaining passengers and crew were deplaned and officers then searched the aircraft "out of an abundance of caution."

"There was no damage to the plane," Fitzpatrick said.

Ali Shahi, a Canadian citizen, faces two mischief charges as well as being accused of uttering threats and endangering safety of an aircraft.

He'll remain in custody awaiting a bail hearing in Brampton court Saturday, Fitzpatrick said.

Meanwhile, the other passengers were transported by bus back to Terminal 1 and Williams said they headed to Panama on a 3 p.m. flight.

"We are pleased to advise that all customers are safe and generally in good spirits," Williams said.

The incident follows a tumultuous week for air travellers around the world, including several incident that hit close to home.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down July 18 by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine. Andrei Anghel, 24, a medical student from Ajax, was among the 298 passengers killed.

Two days later, Air Canada Flight AC1174 from Edmonton, bound for Toronto, was forced to make an emergency landing at Pearson after a flight control indication light came on. The 87 passengers and six crew were unharmed.

And on Wednesday, Air Algérie Flight 5017 crashed in Mali after attempting to fly out of a bad storm. All 110 passengers, including five Canadians, and six crew were killed.


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