Laval man charged after U.S. fighter jets escort Cuba-bound flight back to Montreal

Charalabos Nassios, 39, appeared in court in Montreal Friday to face four charges related to his alleged behaviour on a flight bound for Cuba Thursday which led to fighter jets accompanying the plane back to Montreal.

Charalabos Nassios, 39, charged with uttering threats, assault, endangering safety of aircraft, interference

A Laval man was escorted off a Sunwing flight by police

5 years ago
Duration 0:37
Charges laid against 39-year-old after flight from Montreal to Cuba was forced to turn around, accompanied by U.S. fighter jets

A 39-year-old Laval man was charged Friday, after a flight from Montreal to Cuba was disrupted and then escorted back to Montreal by a pair of American fighter jets on Thursday.

Charalabos Nassios was arrested by Montreal police Thursday evening when the Sunwing Airlines flight returned to Pierre Trudeau Airport.

Nassios has been charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft, uttering threats, assault, and obstructing or interfering with the lawful use of an airplane. He is set to appear in court again Monday for a bail hearing.

Crown prosecutor William Lemay said Nassios is also facing a fifth charge, related to breaching bail conditions.

Rachel Goldrick, the spokesperson for Sunwing Airlines, said flight WG604 had departed for Cayo Coco but turned around due to an "unruly customer" making "non-specific threats.''

"The flight arrived back around 7:25 p.m. that same evening, and the disruptive customer was taken into police custody,'' she said in an email to CBC News, adding that other passengers were given accommodation for the night, meal vouchers and were compensated for the inconvenience.

The next viable departure slot into Cayo Coco was 4:30 a.m. on Friday, according to Sunwing. 

Charalabos Nassios posted a series of pictures to his Facebook page before taking a Sunwing flight bound for Cayo Coco Thursday. (Facebook)

"The person was uttering threats toward the staff. He was intimidating other passengers, so the decision was made to turn around," said Montreal police spokesperson Const. Raphael Bergeron.

"There was no threats about terrorism or anything like that — it was more like behaviour that was aggressive," said Bergeron.

Charles-Édouard Goyer, who works at the airport as a ramp agent, saw the plane upon its return to Montreal. 

"There were about 20 police cruisers (from) border services, airport security and Montreal police," he told CBC News. "I saw the passenger baggage being removed."

Passengers angry

Other passengers aboard the plane said Nassios was happy and seemed drunk.

"What stuns me, it's not the first time I've taken a plane, I've seen some like that before," Robert Racette told Radio-Canada. He said Nassios appeared to be fairly drunk, and "they knew and they still let him get on." 

Lorraine Racette said she heard a bit of aggressive behaviour from Nassios, but she was at the front of the plane, and he was in the middle. However, she said she was never scared.

There was a retired police officer on the flight who she said tried to calm Nassios down, and he seemed to make progress, but the plane had already turned around at that point, she said.

"People were very mad. Very, very,very mad," she said.

One of the two fighter jets that accompanied the Sunwing flight back to Montreal on Thursday. (Amateur video from passenger)

Fighters scrambled

NORAD spokesperson Lt. Commander Joe Nawrocki said a pair of U.S. Air Force F-15 jets were dispatched from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts and intercepted the aircraft near Albany, N.Y.

Canadian CF-18s were also reportedly scrambled from Quebec but did not take part in the operation. They "monitored from a distance, ready to respond quickly if required," MaryAnna Clemons, another NORAD spokesperson, told CBC News.

Clemons added that two F-16s were also scrambled from Atlantic City, N.J., and were in the air but never intercepted the commercial flight.

She said the fact both countries were able to collaborate was due to "the unique binational relationship [that] allows for that cross border support between the U.S. and Canadian air forces."

The 'unruly passenger' was escorted off the flight by police, after it turned around and was escorted by US and Canadian fighter jets. (Charles-Édouard Goyer)

How do fighter jets get involved?

NORAD Major Jennifer Stadnyck said  a "domestic events network" was created in the wake of 9/11 to streamline communications between security agencies. 

She said many factors can influence the network's decision to send fighter jets to intercept a plane.

"They can vary from lack of communication from the aircraft or the aircraft changing directions, or any other thing that seems concerning," she said.

"It's always better to launch and have eyes on the aircraft in the sky than to not have eyes on the aircraft."

The jet pilots look out for anything out of the ordinary happening with the plane they are following, like a change in direction or flight pattern.

Typically, she said, the fighter pilots remain in constant communication with the plane they are watching.

"There are multiple courses of action that we can take.... We don't really talk about them because it would reveal some of our tactics and techniques."

With files from CBC's Antoni Nerestant and Radio-Canada's Marie-Eve Cousineau