Ducking out for a fag at 39,000ft
From: By Kevin Meade
November 22, 2005
AAP A WOMAN passenger tried to open the emergency door of a plane at 39,000ft so she could step outside for a cigarette.
Fellow passengers on the Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Brisbane were alarmed to see French tourist Sadrine Helene Sellies, 34, get up from her seat, holding a cigarette and a lighter, and grab the emergency door handle, Brisbane Magistrates Court was told yesterday.
Commonwealth prosecutor Anthony Gett said passengers were convinced she was trying to open the door.
Sellies, an aged care nurse who was flying to Brisbane with her husband for a three-week holiday in Australia when the incident happened about 8.15am on Friday, pleaded guilty to a charge of endangering an aircraft.
Mr Gett told the court the offence carried a maximum penalty of seven years' jail.
But magistrate Gordon Dean released Sellies on a $1000, 12-month good behaviour bond after her bizarre behaviour was explained by defence counsel Helen Shilton.
Sellies was apparently sleepwalking when she tried to open the door as the plane flew over north Queensland, Ms Shilton said.
She said Sellies was on her first trip outside France and was terrified of flying.
Before leaving for the trip, she had obtained prescriptions for sedatives and sleeping pills.
During the Hong Kong-Brisbane leg of the flight, she did not take any sedatives.
But she drank several glasses of whisky and took several sleeping pills, not realising their effect "would be compounded by alcohol".
The court heard that at 6am, more than two hours before she tried to open the door, Sellies ordered a glass of whisky but the request was refused by a cabin attendant who believed she was drunk.
"She has absolutely no recollection of this event," Ms Shilton said. "She has a history of sleepwalking.
"It may well be that in the state she was in, she was looking for somewhere to have a cigarette, possibly not realising she was still in an aircraft."
Mr Gett said the prosecution conceded that it would have been impossible to open the door while the plane was in flight.
Ms Shilton said Sellies was extremely remorseful.
She said the incident would have been regarded less seriously a few years ago, before the world became gripped by fears of terrorism.
"Had it not been for the events of September 11, perhaps the courts may not have seen this as such a terrifying offence," she said.