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Drunk ex-RIM execs went 'totally off the deep end' on flight, says eyewitness

A fellow passenger's account of the diverted Beijing-bound Air Canada flight.


In-flight map of Air Canada Flight 31 to Beijing. (Photo: Bernie Lee/Twitpic)

By now you probably already know about the two drunk (now former) RIM executives who were arrested for mischief on November 29 after causing a Beijing-bound Air Canada flight to divert to Vancouver.

So what level of mischief is needed to force a plane to land and disrupt the travel plans of 300 people? So far, all we’ve heard is that there was some kind of fight and they were drunk. Court documents obtained by CBC said the two tried to chew through their restraints. But Toronto-based basketball agent Bernie Lee was on the flight, traveling to China to meet with clients, and told me it was one of the craziest scenes he’d ever witnessed. As the co-pilot told him after the ordeal, “You know how everyone’s got that nightmare travel story about a delayed flight? You’ve pretty much got the trump card for the rest of your life.”

George Campbell, 45, and Paul Alexander Wilson, 38, each pleaded guilty in a Richmond, BC court to mischief for disrupting the flight. They were ordered to pay $35,878 each in restitution and given suspended sentences and put on parole for a year. A week later RIM announced it had fired the two, saying in a short statement: “RIM does not condone behaviour that conflicts with applicable laws and employees are expected to act, at all times, with integrity and respect.”

Before even getting on the flight, Lee saw Campbell and Wilson in the airport lounge, according to Lee. “They were tying one on. They were just at the point where they were swearing and talking a bit loud for an airport bar. I remember laughing to myself, ‘I wonder what flight those guys are on.’ And then when I got to my gate, there they were.”

Lee sat in business class, about six rows behind the two men. The flight was a Boeing 777, which features pod-like seats in that section for privacy. “They had pods right next to each other and while those pods muffle the volume pretty well, I could hear them banging around.”

The ruckus continued long after take-off. “At one point, I leaned out of my pod at one and caught this older guy’s eye and he looked at me like, ‘what is this all about, are we going to Vegas or Beijing?'”

The two men were loudly talking to each other through and over the pod walls. “They were also standing on the seat, looking over the wall and just messing with each other, swearing and all that. It would quiet down for 20 minutes or so, then start up again, and it was all over the course of six hours. But it all came to a head after about eight hours.”

“At one point a flight attendant walked by me and rolled her eyes and said, ‘Have you been hearing these guys?’ I asked her what was going on and she said they were just drunk and rowdy, so I said, ‘Maybe you should stop serving them?’ and she told me they hadn’t served them anything. They were just already lit.”

Apparently Air Canada’s discipline policy includes issuing a yellow card to passengers who have already been warned about behaviour. (Looks like a common practice.) A flight attendant later told Lee that she had never yellow carded someone in 30 years. “I actually saw the flight attendant do this because I was waiting for the bathroom. She pulled out the yellow card, as their official reprimand, and it was exactly like a soccer game with the notebook and everything. The two guys started laughing and saying things like ‘Holy fuck, what is this soccer?’ Just joking and laughing about it with each other.”

Now, when the disturbance that led to the plane being rerouted started, Lee was asleep. “I opened my eyes to one of the flight attendants standing at my side and asking me for some help. I was totally confused, obviously, but stood up and saw a group of passengers physically taking the two drunk guys down. “It was really confusing when I first jumped up, seeing a big mish-mash of people in a scuffle. That’s not something you see in an airplane. It was totally crazy. I had a split second panic, like ‘Al Qaeda?!,’ but then remembered about the two drunk guys. They told me after that finally someone in the section yelled at the two guys to shut up and one of the drunk guys went after him to fight him. When that happened everyone jumped in to stop him, then the second drunk guy got into it.

“So they ended up handcuffing them, but these guys weren’t going down without a fight. They’re screaming, ‘Fuck you! Get off of me! I’ll kill you!’ Totally off the deep end. They were actually trying to get up, pushing the female flight attendants and that sort of thing.”

In addition to handcuffs, Campbell and Wilson were further restrained with Air Canada packing tape, binding their arms and legs, according to Lee. “They looked like Air Canada caterpillars. They wanted to put tape over their mouth but weren’t sure if it would choke them. We’re all standing there looking at them, just talking about how to shut them up. The two guys are still yelling crazy stuff like, ‘I’m going to own this airline! Fuck you! You can’t do this to me!'”

This was about the time the decision was made to divert the plane. “At first I was told they were going to try and land in Alaska, but apparently that wouldn’t work because all the Chinese citizens on board didn’t have entry visas for the U.S. Then it was Vancouver.”

It was a four-hour flight to Vancouver. At one point, one of either Campbell or Wilson started yelling about having to use the washroom. “Because the guy was taped up head to toe, the flight attendant had to prop him up and help him hop to the washroom.”

About an hour before landing in Vancouver, “the flight attendants were really telling these guys how much trouble they were in. They must have been sobering up because one guy was now quiet and apologizing but the other fought it until the end, still swearing and threatening them.”

Then they landed. “When we got to the gate, the RCMP burst into the plane like we had Osama bin Laden himself on there. There was about six or eight officers with guns out and everything. They grabbed these two guys and dragged them out like a club bouncer.”

It was after 1 a.m. at this point and Lee said they were originally told the flight crew would be switched over immediately and the flight would resume to China. Once on the ground, officials broke the news it would be delayed another five hours. “We were in the air for something like 14 hours, and ended up in Vancouver. When we got back on our replacement flight the next day, there were notices posted around the plane apologizing and offering $100 vouchers. Gee, thanks.”

Lee didn’t find out that Wilson and Campbell were RIM executives until a few days later. “We had no idea who they were or who they worked for. They were just two drunk morons.”