Disrupting flight costs Houston man $38,000

Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A man from Texas must pay $38,000 to Northwest Airlines for disrupting a flight last November, prompting the crew to divert to Anchorage.

Matthew Leggett, 42, of Houston, had been drinking on a flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo last Nov. 21 when he said he was a terrorist and demanded to see the captain. The 330 passengers on the plane had to be put up for a night at a hotel after the flight landed in Anchorage.

Leggett was originally charged with interfering with a flight crew, a felony. He pleaded guilty in December to a misdemeanor charge of simple assault.

At his sentencing in federal court in Anchorage Monday, U.S. Magistrate John Roberts ordered him Monday to pay Northwest $38,000, a sum the airline says in court documents was less than half of what the diversion of Flight 19 from Minneapolis to Tokyo cost.

Roberts also sentenced Leggett to five years of probation and prohibited him from flying on commercial airlines for the first year of his probation. For the remaining four years, he must get permission from his probation officer to travel.

Mary Geddes, assistant federal public defender, said Leggett suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Leggett told the flight crew he was in psychiatric treatment, she said.

''They were aware they were dealing with somebody who was mentally impaired,'' Geddes said. ''I'm sure their decision to divert had to do with this medical status more than anything else.''

Part of his treatment will include psychiatric help, she said. And he was ordered to avoid alcohol.

An FBI affidavit said that Leggett got drunk on the flight, gulping down four cognac drinks. When flight attendants stopped serving him alcohol, he then bought a bottle of cognac from the duty-free cart and drank from it.

A passenger complained that Leggett was getting drunk, so a flight attendant took the bottle while Leggett was away from his seat. When he found the bottle missing, he yelled at attendants and also threatened to beat up a man who tried to help.

Leggett demanded to see the captain and said he was a terrorist, the affidavit said. He threatened to kill the crew and the passengers. But when reserve pilots returned the cognac to him, he calmed down and went back to his seat, the affidavit said. The captain still decided to divert the plane and landed in Anchorage.

Leggett apologized for his actions, Geddes said.

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