Passengers ‘mutinied’ on a flight from Heathrow after a thunderstorm left them waiting for take-off for almost seven hours.
Trouble erupted after a Beirut-bound Middle East Airlines plane, with 230 passengers aboard, had to abort a 5pm take-off on Thursday, having already missed its original 1pm departure slot.
With the Airbus A330 not given another slot until around 7.30pm, disgruntled passengers argued with crew, raided the galleys and started ‘pushing and shoving’, name-calling and engaging in ‘fisticuffs’, said witnesses.
A Lebanese woman passenger was said to have suffered ‘heart palpitations’, and a male passenger needed to be given oxygen.
Up to eight police officers boarded the plane at 5.50pm but there were no arrests after the fracas and flight ME 202 eventually took off for Lebanon, apparently with all passengers still onboard.
Speaking from Beirut, one London-based businessman explained how trouble broke out, saying: ‘The atmosphere was very tense and a middle-aged man told the crew member he was an idiot.
‘And that was when the pushing and shoving began. The captain came out once and I told him he had failed in his duty, to which he replied I should fly the plane.’
Another passenger, legal translator Jordan Lancaster, 45, compared the chaos to Lord Of The Flies, the novel about a group of schoolboys who descend into savagery when a plane crash leaves them marooned on an island.
Giving the Daily Mail an account of the unrest as it unfolded, she said: ‘People are hysterical. The crew have given up trying to explain the situation to people, and it has ended up in fisticuffs. Several men are also arguing with the captain. This guy in his 50s is so worked up he is being given oxygen.’
As Miss Lancaster gave her account from the cabin over the phone, a male cabin crew member was heard over the intercom system telling passengers: ‘If any of our crew have been rude to you, we apologize for that. We need passengers to hold their horses and calm down.’
Another passenger described the situation as ‘a mutiny’.
The airline said it did not disembark the passengers because it was hopeful of getting a take-off slot and did not want to miss it.
The plane had been taxiing along the runway at 5pm with a view to taking off when the control tower told the plane that it could not because of bad weather en route.
Middle East Airlines’ UK and Ireland manager Naima Kassir said the flight took off at around 8pm and arrived in Beirut five hours later without further incident, adding: ‘Some passengers were in transit from Canada and must have been tired. They got abusive and intimidated the crew.’
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: ‘We were called at 5.50pm to a Middle East Airlines flight at Heathrow Terminal 3 following reports of a disturbance. There were no arrests.’
Heathrow airport operator BAA said that altogether about 50 departures and 29 arrivals were called off because of high winds and thunderstorms. A spokesman said the schedule was expected to be ‘running fine’ today.