Hay River man who assaulted flight attendant aboard plane gets jail time

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A Hay River man who assaulted a flight attendant aboard a First Air flight from Yellowknife last year received a global six-month sentence in NWT territorial court Friday morning.

“An aircraft becomes a community when it takes off, said Judge Bernadette Schmaltz, addressing 61-year-old Max Mahoney as he awaited his fate in the Yellowknife courtroom.

“(Mahoney’s) behaviour that day made it anything but peaceful and safe,” said Schmaltz.

In Yellowknife on Jan. 26, the court heard, Mahoney and a woman – who he had been ordered not to contact – boarded an First Air flight bound for Hay River, where he lived. Sitting at the front of the plane – which was carrying a total of 34 passengers – Mahoney and the woman both drank alcohol from a smoothie bottle. The short 32-minute flight does not serve alcohol and prohibits its consumption. Mahoney didn’t comply with instructions from the flight’s only flight attendant to keep his belongs stowed or under his seat, and he refused to fasten his seatbelt when directed to do so.

When the plane landed in Hay River, Mahoney  stood up while the plane was taxiing to the terminal, forcing the flight attendant to unbuckle her own belt and confront him. Mahoney fell over, and the flight attendant picked up the bottle of alcohol, at which point he became “very defensive.”

Mahoney wrapped his arms around the female flight attendant from behind. They both fell to the ground as he attempted to get the bottle back. She freed herself from his grasp and alerted the captain, who called RCMP.

The flight attendant did not sustained physical injuries.

Passengers couldn’t leave the flight until Mahoney was removed by RCMP.

Mahoney went to trial in October and was found guilty of three charges related to the Jan. 26 incident:  mischief, assault and engaging “in unruly or dangerous behaviour interfering with the performance of the duties of any crewmember,” a charged under the Aeronautics Act. Mahoney was set to be sentenced on Dec. 6, 2018, but he failed to appear in court. Mahoney was arrested a week later and has been in custody since.

The flight attendant who was assaulted testified at trial, detailing the impact the assault had on personally and professionally. While she wasn’t injured, the victim left work for eight weeks, finding it difficult to work alone. She was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the incident. She said she felt defenceless and was worried about the safety of passengers while the assault occurred.

“Mental and emotional harm can often be worse and last much longer than physical injuries,” said Schmaltz.

Schmaltz said the victim had a great deal of responsibility – which Mahoney interfered in – on the aircraft, acting as a the main conduit of communication between the pilot and passengers.

“When a passenger is unruly … a plane is not a bar or another place where someone can be asked to leave,” said Schmaltz, noting the vulnerability of passengers in close quarters.

In court yesterday, Mahoney, dressed in jeans and a camo t-shirt, said he was “deeply sorry” to the victim and the passengers on board. Mahoney’s lawyer said her client has struggled with alcoholism for years, and that he acknowledges he has a problem. Most of his 40 convictions, Mahoney’s lawyer said, are related to drinking.

Mahoney, the court heard, once aspired to be a pilot himself at a young age.

Schmaltz said his apology didn’t come across as sincere, saying he can’t expect to receive credit for his remorse when he’s “done nothing” to change his behaviour.

“Mr. Mahoney is incorrigible,” she said.

Schmaltz said Mahoney needs to decide to get help for himself.

Mahoney also pleaded guilty to a pair of undertaking breaches and failing to appear in court for sentencing in December. He received a six-month sentence for the combined convictions, but with credit for time spend in remand custody, Mahoney will have just under four months left to serve.

Mahoney will be on probation for one-year after his release.

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As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility to be there - day or night, rain or shine. When I’m not at court gathering stories, I’m in the office, making calls to lawyers, emailing RCMP and tracking down sources. After hours, I rely on the public to let me know what’s happening and where. Entering my second winter in Yellowknife since leaving my hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in October 2017, everyday on this beat continues to be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. Got a story? Call me at (867) 766-8288 or shoot me an email at editorial@nnsl.com.

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