Italian man's 'sick joke' about having Ebola causes plane lockdown in Ireland

A woman walks past Letterkenny General Hospital in Donegal, Ireland on Aug 22, 2014. An Italian man who joked about having Ebola which caused a Aer Lingus plane to be put on lockdown at the airport has been ordered on Friday to donate 2,500 euro
A woman walks past Letterkenny General Hospital in Donegal, Ireland on Aug 22, 2014. An Italian man who joked about having Ebola which caused a Aer Lingus plane to be put on lockdown at the airport has been ordered on Friday to donate 2,500 euros (S$4,024) to charity or face a criminal conviction. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

AN ITALIAN man who joked about having Ebola which caused a Aer Lingus plane to be put on lockdown at the airport has been ordered on Friday to donate 2,500 euros (S$4,024) to charity or face a criminal conviction.

The court heard that Roberto Binaschi, 56, took a sip of his daughter's coffee from a disposable cup on board the flight from Milan to Dublin and wrote the words "Attenzione Ebola" - Italian for "Attention Ebola" - on the lid to tease her about his saliva on the cup, the BBC reported.

After his daughter finished the coffee, the cup was handed to a flight attendant to be disposed of. But the words caught the attention of the flight attendant who asked Binaschi, a company director, if he was the one who wrote them and he admitted he did.

The discovery triggered an emergency response, with 142 passengers held on board for an hour as the plane went on lockdown after landing at Dublin Airport, according to the Irish Independent.

Binaschi, whose wife was also travelling with him, was arrested at the airport on Thursday.

The judge noted the seriousness of his joke, and compared it to writing "there is a bomb on the plane" on a napkin.

The current outbreak of the deadly Ebola that originated in West Africa has killed 4,920 people worldwide so far. The virus that has no known cure is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as saliva, from an infected person.

"He was over international waters on an international flight, that is how serious it is," the judge was quoted as saying by the BBC. But he stopped short of imposing a jail term.

"It cannot be described as anything but a sick joke," the judge said, after taking into consideration that the words were a private joke between Binaschi and his daughter and were not shown intentionally to the cabin crew.

Binashi pleaded guilty to using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour on board an aircraft and paid 2,500 euros to the Capuchin Friary in Bow Street in Dublin under court order.

His wife, 51, and daughter, 23, who were also arrested were released without charge, the Irish Indepdent reported.