Man gets jail for slapping cabin crew on Singapore Airlines flight SQ33, bomb threat charge withdrawn
La Andy Hien Duc's schizophrenia was highly contributory to the offences, the court heard.
SINGAPORE: A man who made a bomb threat on a Singapore Airlines flight was sentenced to four weeks' jail on Friday (Nov 4) for slapping a cabin crew member.
He was given a discharge amounting to acquittal for making the bomb threat, after the prosecution administered a stern warning to him.
La Andy Hien Duc, 37, pleaded guilty to one count of voluntarily causing hurt on board flight SQ33 from San Francisco to Singapore on Sep 28.
As the jail term is backdated since his first date of arrest on Sep 28, he will not serve any additional jail time.
The court heard that La was an undiagnosed schizophrenic when he boarded flight SQ33 on Sep 26 in San Francisco.
He had been hearing voices for about one-and-a-half years before that, said his lawyer Johannes Hadi.
He believed he was a holy deity who had to go to Phuket for a pilgrimage. The flight was his first overseas trip since childhood.
La boarded the flight alone, intending to transit in Singapore on the way to Phuket. He knowingly consumed a chocolate bar infused with cannabis, the court heard.
On the flight, La heard a voice in his head telling him there was a bomb on the plane and asking him to shout to alert others.
He did so twice. He then saw a white light in one of the overhead compartments and heard a voice telling him the bomb was in there.
La later removed a bag from the compartment that belonged to another passenger.
When an air steward approached La, he said he had a vision and pointed to the bag.
The cabin crew member checked the bag and found that it contained mostly food. But La asked the air steward to check all the bags in the aircraft for the bomb.
He also dashed to another overhead compartment in a bid to take down more bags.
The air steward and the inflight manager then escorted La to the galley of the plane and the chief steward was alerted to the situation.
In the galley, La tried to dash out twice. After a while, he said he was feeling better and asked the cabin crew to release their grip on him.
When they did so, he slapped the air steward's cheek.
La was eventually restrained with straps and monitored closely for the rest of the flight.
The incident triggered the deployment of Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16C/D fighter jets, which escorted the plane safely to Changi Airport.
Officers from the Airport Police Division and Special Operations Command’s K-9 Unit, as well as the Singapore Armed Forces’ Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives Defence Group, were mobilised to investigate the threat, which turned out to be false.
The plane landed at a remote location in Changi Airport at about 5.50am on Sep 28, but passengers disembarked only at about 9.10am due to the related delays.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Lim Ying Min said she and the defence were in agreement that the appropriate sentence in this case would be the time already served by La.
He has since been diagnosed with schizophrenia by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), said Mr Hadi, who represented La with lawyer Hilary Low.
He was not previously diagnosed in California, where La is from.
Mr Hadi cited the IMH report, saying La's delusionary beliefs, auditory hallucinations and psychotic thought disorder were highly contributory to the offences.
He said La first began hearing voices about one-and-a-half years ago. Initially, they were the voices of his friends, but the voices grew more ominous.
They caused La to do things like run out of the house in the middle of the night. He believed he was psychic as he could "hear" the thoughts of people around him.
He also thought he was a holy deity and needed to make a pilgrimage to Phuket to save others and do battle with evil forces. He used a large proportion of his savings for this trip, said Mr Hadi.
The judge said La's culpability for the offences has been reduced due to his mental condition. She wished him recovery from his illness.
For voluntarily causing hurt, he could have been jailed for up to three years, fined up to S$5,000, or both.
The charge of using threatening words likely to cause alarm carries a fine of up to S$5,000.
In a statement after the sentencing, the Attorney-General’s Chambers said La genuinely believed that there was a bomb on the plane, due to his mental disorder.
“He shouted that out to alert the other passengers in the hope of saving them. While he could have taken other actions which would not have resulted in the disturbance, such as quietly alerting the air crew, AGC nevertheless assessed that prosecution was not warranted,” said the statement.
It added that the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority has stated that La will be deported from Singapore on Nov 5 and will be barred from re-entering Singapore.