A victim of the Pol Pot dictatorship in Cambodia this week saw his “journey of a lifetime” — to see his family after 35 years — end in heartbreak as he instead woke up in a prison cell in Shannon.
At Ennis District Court yesterday, 55-year-old Som Chanh made his second court appearance concerning his pleading guilty to three air rage-related offences that forced an Air Transat flight to divert to Shannon on Monday.
Chanh was one of 235 passengers onboard the Paris-Montreal flight and was making the journey to see his mother and four siblings whom he had not seen in 35 years, since he was flown to France as a refugee from Cambodia in 1977.
Garda Emer O’Riordan told the court that on the flight, Chanh threatened “to blow the doors of the airplane open if he didn’t receive any more alcohol”.
Garda O’Riordan said flight attendants told her Chanh had been aggressive and intoxicated. She said he kicked and punched the seat in front of him and grabbed one of the flight attendants, demanding more alcohol.
Garda O’Riordan said the direct costs to the airline of the diversion to Shannon totalled €10,254.
Stiofan Fitzpatrick, for Chanh, said the accused was only able to buy the €730 ticket to Montreal after winning €945 in a EuroMillions draw.
Mr Fitzpatrick said: “Mr Chanh tells me that he couldn’t afford to go to Canada before now and was fortunate enough to win the EuroMillions ticket.”
Mr Fitzpatrick said his client had not been on a plane since 1977 and drank a naggin (200ml) of whiskey before boarding “because he was extremely nervous about the flight and it was to help him fall asleep”.
The flight diverted to Shannon at 10.30am on Monday and Mr Fitzpatrick said “it was only [Tuesday] that Mr Chanh realised that he was in Ireland”.
Chanh’s arrest has, for now, ended his chances of seeing his elderly mother and he is now anxious to get back to France and his work, Mr Fitzpatrick said.
Judge Patrick Durcan said Mr Chanh had been embarking “on a journey of a lifetime” to go see his mother for the first time in 35 years, but that he had made the mistake of fortifying himself by drinking whiskey for the long flight.
Judge Durcan said he was amazed the airline had allowed an intoxicated man onboard and that the loss to the airline is a civil matter.
The judge issued Chanh with the Probation Act. “It would be very inappropriate to do otherwise,” he said.
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