News and Press Releases

Physician Called 9-1-1 Three Times From Sea-Tac Gate in Effort to Make Flight to Memphis

April 4, 2008

KOU WEI CHIU, 32, of Nashville, Tennessee, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to three years of probation, 500 hours of community service, and $81,249 in restitution for the felony offense of False Information and Threats. In November 2007, CHIU pleaded guilty, admitting that on July 25, 2007, he was late for his plane, and called in bomb threats to try to get the plane held at the gate. U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones said at sentencing, “Anytime a person makes reference to a bomb in association with a plane, even in jest, it conjures fear of a repeat of the 9/11 attacks.” However, Judge Jones found that CHIU’s actions were an aberration, driven by his mental health. Judge Jones ordered that the 500 hours of community service be served providing medical care to those who cannot afford to pay for care. Dr. Chiu had been providing free medical assistance to low income individuals since his arrest in this case.

According to the statement of facts in the plea agreement, on July 25, 2007, CHIU arrived at Sea-Tac airport and was late for his flight home to Memphis, Tennessee. The flight was Northwest Airlines flight 980. CHIU made three calls to 9-1-1 from a payphone near the gate. On each call CHIU falsely reported that there was a bomb on Flight 980. During his first call CHIU told the 9-1-1 operator “Flight 980 Memphis. There may be a bomb on board.” After the first call CHIU saw that the call had “no effect” so he made a second call. When that call too had no effect, CHIU made a third call. At that point, the plane returned to the gate. CHIU admits that he made the calls thinking that the plane would be held in Seattle for a few hours while it was searched, which would allow him to get on the plane.

Northwest Flight 980 was grounded for several hours. CHIU was arrested at the airport after passengers who had been nearby identified him to police as the person who was heard calling in bomb threats from the payphone. Northwest Airlines lost over $70,000 in fuel, gate fees and other expenses. The Port of Seattle, the Port of Seattle Police and TSA have spent thousands of dollars investigating the case.

At the sentencing hearing Dr. David L. Dunner, the former Director of the University of Washington Center for Anxiety and Depression, told the court that CHIU had stopped taking an anti-depressant in the days before the incident, and that CHIU entered a manic phase that “impaired his judgement.” CHIU told the court he realized “depression is not the common cold,” and vowed he “will be taking medication for the rest of his life. This will never happen again,” CHIU told the court.

Assistant United States Attorney Mike Lang agreed to recommend a probationary sentence after reviewing CHIU’s mental health history, and his history of service to his community. “Dr. Chiu has a true sense of wrongdoing and a desire to make it right,” Lang said. “This defendant can do a lot more good outside of jail than inside.”

The case was investigated by the Port of Seattle Police, the Transportation Safety Administration, and the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mike Lang.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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