By Phyllis Stark. CREATED Jul 26, 2014
The family of a man charged with making a bomb threat on an Canadian plane flying over U.S. airspace on Friday morning says he has a history of mental illness.
The suspect, 25-year-old Canadian Ali Shahi, was released on bail Saturday morning.
Sunwing Flight 722 was en route from Toronto to Panama City, flying over West Virginia about 45 minutes into the trip when Shahi became unruly and threatened to blow up the plane, reportedly because the cost of cigarettes on the plane was 25 cents less than what he’d paid at the airport. Shahi, who was reportedly traveling with his girlfriend, wanted to be reimbursed for the difference, according to Canadian news service CBC.
Another report from British newspaper The Guardian says Shahi “became angry after learning that the duty-free items he wanted were not for sale.”
The flight had 181 passengers, two infants, two pilots and four flight attendants on board, according to CBC.
The pilot turned the flight around to head back for an emergency landing at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. The plane made the trip accompanied by two U.S. F-16 military jets dispatched out of Toledo, Ohio.
When the plane landed, passenger video (watch it above) shows an armed SWAT team swarming onto the plane to arrest Shahi.
CBC reports, “Shahi was charged with mischief to property, mischief interfering of the lawful enjoyment of property, uttering threats and endangering the safety of an aircraft. He was released on $1,000 bail after appearing at a Brampton court. Shahi was ordered not to board a plane or enter Pearson International Airport as part of the conditions for his release.”
His family, meanwhile, says they have sought help for Shahi’s alleged mental problems, including depression, for years but couldn’t admit him to a mental institution against his will. Family members tell CBC he also had a gambling problem that caused him to lose $6,000 in student loan money.
"I am sorry for what happened on the flight, but Ali is not at fault," his father Shadegh Shahi told CBC. "I blame the police and health system. We called the police for help more than 23 times in the last two to three years, but unfortunately they did nothing to help us or help my son."
CBC reports, “Shahi … stayed briefly at Mississauga's Credit Valley Hospital for mental health issues, family members said. What was supposed to be a month-long treatment lasted only a few weeks after the hospital discharged him for ‘not following rules,’ Shahi's father said.”
“Shahi attended the University of Toronto briefly. He now goes to Lakehead University in Thunder Bay and has changed majors several times,” family members told CBC.