Twin sentenced to probation in flight interference case

Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- One of the twin sisters convicted of getting drunk and disrupting an international flight that had to be diverted to Anchorage five months ago was sentenced Wednesday to five years probation but no additional jail time.

Federal District Court Judge John Sedwick also ordered Cynthia Mikula, 22, of Buckley, Mich., to pay nearly $87,000 in restitution and perform 231 hours of community service for her part in a ruckus on board on United Airlines Flight 857 from San Francisco to Shanghai, China on April 19.

''That represents one hour for every passenger on the airline,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Charlie Brown of the community service portion of the sentence.

The restitution -- $86,774.92, to be exact -- represents the amount the diversion cost United Airlines. Among the costs, Brown said, were flight crew overtime, landing fees, 20,000 gallons of jet fuel, plus food and hotel accommodations for the 231 other passengers.

Mikula reached an agreement in July to plead guilty to one count of interfering with a flight crew.

Mikula's identical twin, Crystal Mikula, 22, also of Buckley, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault.

The women were headed to a modeling competition in Shanghai when they got drunk, argued, directed profane language at each other and smoked in the airliner restroom.

They resumed the argument outside the restroom and when members of the flight crew tried to intervene, Cynthia Mikula struck a female flight attendant in the face and hit a male flight attendant and the captain, according to court documents. She bloodied the nose of the female flight attendant.

Her sister jumped on the back of another flight attendant and choked him in an attempt to prevent her sister from being restrained with plastic handcuffs.

One of the plane's 233 passengers videotaped the disturbance.

The pilot diverted the plane to Anchorage. The passengers and 22 crew members spent the night and resumed the trip a day later. United had to accommodate the passengers during the delay, compensate them for the inconvenience and pay the crew overtime.

The maximum sentence for interfering with a flight crew is 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release. However, federal sentencing guidelines for a first-offender bind the judge to a less severe sentence.

Brown said Mikula could have been sentenced to six months in jail and already has served about two months before reaching a bail agreement. Mikula had no criminal history and ranked low in criteria that could have escalated the sentence, Brown said.

Brown said he expect Mikula to perform the public service in her home state.

United spokeswoman Whitney Staley said the company had no comment on the sentence. She said the company is focused this week on assisting families of victims killed on board the two company aircraft hijacked and used in the East Coast terrorist attacks last week, plus layoffs the company just announced.

United Airlines parent UAL Corp. announced Wednesday that it is laying off 20,000 workers in the wake of the attacks. The cuts amount to about 20 percent of its work force of 100,000 people.

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