FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
TUESDAY - February 3, 2009
NEW YORKER PLEADS GUILTY TO INTERFERRING
WITH FLIGHT CREW DUTIES
GREENVILLE - United States Attorney George E.B. Holding announced that in federal court today United States Magistrate Judge David Daniel accepted the guilty plea of HENRY RAYMOND MCDOWELL, JR., 34, of Coram, New York, for interfering with the performance of a flight attendant and crew member, in violation of Title 49, United States Code, Section 46504.
A Criminal Information was filed on January 5, 2009. On November 19, 2008, MCDOWELL, a passenger aboard a Comair flight originating from New York and bound for Savannah, Georgia, was specifically instructed by a flight attendant to remain in his seat while taxiing for take off. MCDOWELL, ignoring the flight attendant’s instructions, entered the lavatory. Following the beverage service, the flight attendant noted that the smoke alarm from the lavatory located in the rear of the aircraft had activated. The pilot, also receiving an alarm in the cockpit regarding the activation of the lavatory smoke detector, smelled the smoke that had wafted through the plane. The flight attendant had observed MCDOWELL exit the lavatory earlier. MCDOWELL eventually admitted to smoking in the lavatory and disposing of the cigarette in the toilet.
Because of safety concerns, the pilot diverted the aircraft to Raleigh Durham International Airport. When the announcement was made to the passengers regarding the diversion, a passenger made a derogatory comment to MCDOWELL, blaming MCDOWELL for the diversion. MCDOWELL then began moving towards and screaming at another passenger. When the first passenger informed MCDOWELL that he had made the comment, MCDOWELL redirected his attention to him, threatening to kill the passenger and his family, calling him a name.
The flight attendant, attempting to intervene, was struck twice by MCDOWELL. Additional passengers got involved to assist in getting MCDOWELL under control. He was eventually re-seated near the front of the plane to separate him from the other passengers and his companion, who he had been verbally abusive to also.
Mr. Holding commented: I can’t imagine a place more ill-suited for an altercation than an airplane. When each of us boards a plane we place our very lives in the hands of the crew and our fellow passengers. There is no room for error and any person who interferes with a flight crew must be prosecuted in order to prevent these types of incidents in the future.”
The maximum penalty for the charge of interfering with a flight crew member is up to 20 years imprisonment followed by up to three years supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for the May 4, 2009, term of court.
Investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Eric Evenson served as prosecutor for the government.
News releases are available on the U. S. Attorney’s web page at www.usdoj.gov/usao/nce within 48 hours of release.