Ex-teacher punches Qantas attendant mid-flight


Philip James Russell, 61, leaves Maroochydore Court House after pleading guilty to assaulting a flight attendant when in the air between Bangkok and Sydney.

Philip James Russell, 61, leaves Maroochydore Court House after pleading guilty to assaulting a flight attendant when in the air between Bangkok and Sydney.Stuart Cumming

RETIRED high school teacher Philip James Russell lashed out at an attendant during a flight between Bangkok and Sydney, a court has heard.

The 61-year-old Sunshine Coast man pleaded guilty in Maroochydore Magistrates Court on Thursday to striking a Qantas flight attendant in the stomach in April last year.

Commonwealth Prosecutor Imogen Taylor said the flight attendant had seen Russell in a galley area and asked him to return to his seat.

The court heard Russell refused to leave and struck the male attendant in the base of the stomach.

He was subdued by the attendant and two other passengers.

Plastic restraints were placed on him.

The attendant was left shaking and crying and was unable to complete his duties for the rest of the flight.

Ms Taylor said Australia Federal Police officers interviewed Russell in Sydney on April 29 last year.

She said he told them he had drank four glasses of wine in the first four hours of the flight and did not remember assaulting the attendant.

He told the officers he had blacked out.

“It is clearly offending that warrants a significant need for general deterrence,” Ms Taylor said.

She said it was concerning that two other passengers were required to help restrain him.

Defence barrister Simon Lewis said his client had been a high school teacher for 35 years until his retirement in 2014.

Mr Lewis said Russell travelled regularly to and from Thailand where his partner, a Thai woman, lived.

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He said Russell had been in Thailand for five months in the lead up to the flight back to Australia.

Mr Lewis said Russell didn’t think he had drunk enough alcohol to be intoxicated but accepted he blacked out.

References from a friend and former colleague were tendered on Russell’s behalf.

“Your Honour can see this behaviour is extremely out of character for my client,” Mr Lewis said.

He said Russell did not know why he blacked out.

“He went to see a GP and the GP essentially said to him there is no explanation for it.”

Russell offered to pay compensation to the attendant.

Magistrate Annette Hennessy noted the significance of the offence, saying people had been jailed for making threats on aircraft, let alone striking someone.

She took into account Russell’s good character, complete lack of criminal history and responsible career as a teacher.

Russell was placed on three-year good behaviour bond and ordered to pay $2000 compensation to the flight attendant.

No conviction was recorded.

5 / 5 stars     

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