A 42-year-old American man prosecuted over the emergency diversion of an aircraft in June last year has been found not guilty.
Jeremiah Mathis Thede was accused of acting in a manner likely to negligently endanger an aircraft. Jurors took less than an hour to find the Californian innocent.
The United Airlines flight from Rome to Chicago landed in Belfast after crew became concerned.
Mr Thede’s solicitor, Patrick Madden, said: “The prosecution case and the decision to divert the flight was all based on information which is inaccurate from the cabin crew, it was based on speculation, misunderstanding, and misinterpretation.
“In fact there was simply no credible evidence in this case to suggest that Mr Thede had acted in any way to endanger this flight.”
Mr Thede denied being aggressive towards cabin crew after they refused him pre-flight crackers. His barrister saidwitnesses at his trial in Antrim Crown Court had contradicted each other and added they had over-reacted to a series of relatively minor events.
The service diverted to Belfast after staff became worried and said they had been approached by passengers — some even moving children away from the agitated accused.
Mr Thede had previously described how he was down to his last dollars following a long European trip and problems with a credit card and had eaten only an apple during five hours waiting in Rome airport for the delayed flight home.
He has said he requested crackers immediately upon boarding, then repeatedly during the flight, because he was hungry. Unable to sleep, he proceeded to repeatedly go to the bathroom and search through his luggage while organising contacts from his long European trip.
Attendants claimed he left his meal tray obstructing the aisle and alleged that his behaviour was odd.
Mr Thede’s barrister, Aaron Thompson, quipped that the whole trial was a bit crackers.
Judge Desmond Marrinan had told jurors it would be a fatal flaw to just take the crew’s word for it and counselled the panel to avoid rumour or speculation.
He said the key issues had included Mr Thede’s alleged failure to obey staff and whether passengers were likely to take matters into their own hands — which may have led to trouble.
A relief pilot earlier told the trial that Mr Thede was unpredictable and his behaviour was odd.
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