A former postman who forced a holiday flight to Spain to turn back after threatening to kill all its passengers in a drunken rage has been banned from flying for five years.
Robert Russell, who booked the flight to Malaga as a treat after being made redundant from his Royal Mail job, even tried to open the emergency door at 30,000ft before being restrained by crew and passengers.
The 48-year-old drank lager and vodka in Gatwick's departure lounge as he waited for the flight on October 15 last year.
Brighton Crown Court was told yesterday how Russell stank of alcohol when he boarded the plane and initially had to be ordered to stay in his seat after abusing an air stewardess.
He tried to grab the Monarch Airlines stewardess and shouted: “Oi blondie. Come and sit here so I can stroke you.”
Russell, of Dobson Road, Crawley, then started hurling abuse at flight staff.
When a concerned passenger intervened, Russell threatened to kill him and all the passengers on board before walking to the emergency exit and tugging at the door at 30,000ft.
Terrified passengers were told to put their seatbelts on as the pilot decided to turn the packed holiday jet back to Gatwick at a cost of £26,000 where police were waiting to arrest Russell.
He originally denied the charges claiming he had no memory of the incident then changed his plea and admitted endangering an aircraft.
Gail Purdy, prosecuting, told an earlier hearing that when Russell was restrained by four people he threatened to take down the entire aircraft.
She told the court: “The defendant was by now threatening to kill them all.
“Two crew members, with the help of two passengers, managed to restrain him. During the struggle he grabbed one of the passengers round the throat.”
Christopher Rodwell, defending, said his client was genuinely remorseful for what he had done. Judge Richard Hayward described Russell's behaviour as bizarre before banning him from every airport in the UK for five years, handing him a £4,643 fine and a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He was also ordered to do 200 hours community service.
Yesterday it was revealed that Sussex Police dealt with 58 incidents on board planes leaving Gatwick last year up from 50 in 2007.