SINGAPORE - An American man who had falsely claimed there was a bomb on board a Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight was sentenced to four weeks’ jail on Friday after he pleaded guilty to an assault charge for slapping an air steward.
Grocery packer La Andy Hien Duc, 37, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia after his arrest, was also given a stern warning over the bomb threat he made on board SQ33 from San Francisco to Singapore in September.
A harassment charge linked to this offence was withdrawn, and Hien Duc was given a discharge amounting to an acquittal.
This means he cannot be charged again with the same offence.
As the sentence will be backdated, Hien Duc, who has spent more than a month in remand, is expected to be deported on Saturday.
He was one of 208 passengers on board SQ33, which was scheduled to leave San Francisco at 10.05pm on Sept 26 (1.05pm Singapore time on Sept 27). The flight was scheduled to arrive in Singapore at around 5am on Sept 28.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Lim Ying Min said Hien Duc had knowingly consumed a chocolate bar infused with cannabis before boarding the plane at San Francisco International Airport. Court documents did not state if the drug affected his condition during the flight.
He was travelling alone and had intended to transit in Singapore before taking another flight to Phuket, Thailand.
DPP Lim said that en route to Singapore, Hien Duc heard a voice in his head telling him that there was a bomb on the plane.
The voice also told him to shout and alert the others on the plane.
The DPP said: “The accused thus shouted ‘There is a bomb on the plane’ at least twice, which was heard by the nearby passengers.
“He claimed he then saw a white light in one of the overhead compartments and heard the voice in his head telling him that the bomb was in a bag in that overhead compartment.”
Hien Duc got out of his seat and opened an overhead compartment about four rows ahead, taking out a bag belonging to a 31-year-old Malaysian man.
Another passenger, a 36-year-old American man, heard the commotion and alerted the cabin crew. An air steward came forward and asked Hien Duc to clarify his claims about the bomb.
The prosecutor told the court: “The accused replied that he had a vision of a bomb inside a bag and pointed to the bag he took.”
Referring to the air steward, the prosecutor said: “The victim checked the said bag and found mostly food. After ascertaining that there was no bomb in the bag, the victim returned the bag to (the Malaysian man).”
Hien Duc then told the steward to check all the bags inside the aircraft. The steward assured him that he would handle the matter and told him to return to his seat.
Instead of doing so, Hien Duc dashed towards another overhead compartment to take out another bag.
The steward and one of his colleagues then escorted him to the galley at the rear of the plane, where the pair held his arms and tried to calm him down. Hien Duc then slapped the steward’s left cheek.
DPP Lim said: “Upon seeing the accused turn violent, the victim and (his colleague) quickly held on to the accused to prevent him from hitting anyone else.
“For the safety of the passengers, the crew members restrained the accused using straps and vacated the passenger seats nearest to him. The accused became compliant. He was closely monitored for the rest of the flight.”
Police were alerted to the bomb threat and the plane was escorted to Changi Airport by Republic of Singapore Air Force fighter jets.
SQ33 landed at a remote location at Changi Airport and police escorted Hien Duc out of the plane.
The Airport Police Division and Special Operations Command’s K-9 Unit, as well as the Singapore Armed Forces’ Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives Defence Group, were mobilised to investigate the matter.
The threat turned out to be false.
There was a delay in disembarkation due to additional security measures. The crew members and passengers were finally allowed to leave the plane at 9.11am, more than four hours after the plane was scheduled to land in Singapore.
Defence lawyer Johannes Hadi said that his client had not been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was in the United States.
The lawyer added that Hien Duc had thought that he was a holy deity and had wanted to go to Phuket to “do battle with evil forces”.
For voluntarily causing hurt, an offender can be jailed for up to three years and fined up to $5,000.
For using threatening words likely to cause alarm, an offender can be fined up to $5,000.
In a statement on Friday, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said it was found that the American genuinely believed that there was a bomb on the plane, due to his mental disorder.
Its spokesman added: “While he could have taken other actions which would not have resulted in the disturbance, such as quietly alerting the air crew, (the AGC) nevertheless assessed that prosecution was not warranted.
“However, the offence of assaulting the victim was not directly related to his schizophrenia, and he was found, during the psychiatric assessment, to have clearly retained the capacity to know that it was wrong to assault the victim.”