Calgary

Drunk passenger who forced WestJet flight to turn around had 'moment of weakness' after 18 months of sobriety

A British man is "relieved" to be sentenced — even though he must reimburse the airline for $21,260 in wasted fuel — after his belligerent, drunken behaviour forced a WestJet flight to turn around, his lawyer says.

David Stephen Young, 44, forced a plane to turn around due to his belligerent behaviour

The man whose drunken behaviour caused a WestJet plane to turn around has been fined the cost of the wasted fuel, more than $21,000. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A British man is "relieved" to be sentenced — even though he must reimburse the airline for $21,260 in wasted fuel — after his belligerent, drunken behaviour forced a WestJet flight to turn around, his lawyer says.

David Stephen Young, 44, pleaded guilty to charges under the Aeronautics Act and Criminal Code of failing to comply with safety instructions and resisting arrest.

He was sentenced Tuesday to pay the airline for the cost of wasted fuel of the Jan. 4 flight from Calgary to London.

"He simply had a moment of weakness, gave in, because he hadn't drank in a long, long period of time," defence lawyer Michelle Parhar told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday. 

"He ended up becoming much more inebriated than he had ever intended, and then you see the consequences before you."

On the flight, Young tried repeatedly to use the washroom during takeoff. He then became aggressive with the flight crew and fellow passenger Karen Ambler.

"He said quite clearly out-loud that he didn't give a 'flying F' about anybody that was on the plane, OK, which of course is a very, very serious thing to be saying," Ambler previously told CBC. "And I was petrified."

Family stress drove him to drink after 18 months of sobriety

Young spent six nights in jail before receiving bail. One of the first things he did upon release, his lawyer says, was to find a nearby Alcoholics Anonymous group.

"He's never been to jail before. It definitely hit home to him, the seriousness of what had happened," she said.

Young had been sober for 18 months before having a drink at a bar at the Calgary International Airport before his flight. He found the hours leading up to takeoff "disorienting," she said.

He had been upset due to the visit with his mother, a senior who lives in Canada, and "personal circumstances" back in the U.K., his lawyer said. 

He was depressed because of a death in the family and a failed marriage, according to the facts of the case presented in court last week.

"You know, you go so long being sober and you think you're going to be fine, and he forgot what it feels like to lose control," said Parhar, who works with YYC Criminal Defence. 

"At this point, he's relieved that he's finally been sentenced and he's able to return to his friends and family."

Young had six drinks before boarding, she said.

Ambler said she thought he was clearly intoxicated but the airline said flight attendants didn't notice, and he was allowed to board. He was not served drinks on the plane.

The judge issued a sentence of time served, taking into account the payment he is court-ordered to make to WestJet, his lawyer said.

The prosecutor had requested a restitution order of $65,000 but the judge didn't want to bankrupt Young. WestJet can still file a civil claim against the U.K. man to recoup its losses, which it says could be more than $200,000.

WestJet declined to comment following sentencing.

May never be allowed to visit mom in Canada again

Young is now allowed to return to his home in the United Kingdom.

On Jan. 4, Young had been returning from visiting his mother, who is 71 and lives in British Columbia.

"There's a good chance that he might never be able to enter Canada," Parhar said, adding his criminal record would be shared with the United States.

For the time being, Young's mother is well enough to travel to the U.K. to visit her son but they're not sure how long that will last.

"One of his deepest regrets is that he might not be able to come see his mom when ... she needs him again."

In court, Parhar read out an apology written by her client, including specific apologies to flight attendants, officers, passengers and the pilots.

In his letter, he called his behaviour "disgusting" and apologized for the "embarrassment I brought upon my family, especially my children."

With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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