An Israeli man was released from 11 days in jail in the UK on Tuesday after a judge accepted his excuse for disorderly conduct that forced a flight to land — he was so nervous about flying to see his girlfriend, he drank most of a bottle of whiskey.
Zahi Lebhardt, 31, a Tel Aviv father of two, was flying on a Lufthansa 747 from Frankfurt to Toronto on April 6. Flight attendants became concerned when he began spitting and disruptively slamming his tray table, UK’s Daily Mail reported. He ended up locking himself in the plane’s lavatory, screaming and ripping tiles off the wall.
After cabin crew were unable to calm him down, the pilot decided to make an emergency landing in Manchester rather than risk flying across the ocean with the unruly passenger. Lebhardt was taken into custody and had been in jail since.
On Tuesday the Israeli was freed after being sentenced in Manchester Magistrate’s Court to a three-month suspended sentence and a £200 fine.
Lebhart expressed remorse at the incident, saying it was not in his character and occurred because of his fear of flying and nervousness about meeting his girlfriend.
“I’m quite shocked and devastated,” he told the court. “It’s never happened to me in my entire life. I’m not a drinker, I was just so excited to see my Mrs,” he said.
Prosecuting lawyer Rachel Parker said that Lebhardt “took out and put away his tray table and continued to do this in a noisy manner to the annoyance of other passengers. The crew was unable to stop him as they were seated.”
He also made several trips to the bathroom. “On one occasion he locked himself inside and was screaming loudly and banging on the interior of the wash room for over five minutes,” she said.
“When he came out staff noticed panels lining the wash room had been pulled off the walls and the soap dispenser had been thrown around.”
They then discovered an open bottle of duty-free whiskey in front of him.
“He was shown the bottle of whiskey which was three-quarters empty… He was asked if he was on any medication and said no. He did state he was a nervous flier.”
His defense lawyer Vic Wozny told the court that Lebhart had obsessive-compulsive disorder and was afraid to fly.
In passing sentence, the judge said that the offense was serious enough to warrant the 11 days Lebhart had spent in jail. However, he added, “we have heard the remorse and how sad you are to hear how you acted through being drunk. It’s not in your character.”
But Lebhart is not out of the woods yet.
Lufthansa is suing him separately for the unscheduled two-hour stopover, which is estimated to have cost the airline some £17,000 (NIS 79,000; $21,500).