A WOMAN who tried to open the door of an aircraft while it was in mid-flight has been released from custody after experts ruled she could not have opened it.
The pilot of the plane had said Ann Gilmour’s bid to leap from the Avro RJ85 aircraft could have had “catastrophic” consequences for the 100 passengers on board.
Cabin crew had to drag the suicidal Scots woman from the door during the Air France flight to Edinburgh.
Gilmour was arrested and at Edinburgh Sheriff Court later admitted culpable and reckless conduct which endangered the flight.
The 47-year-old was due to be sentenced but after reports from two Civil Aviation Authority experts the court heard that her actions had never placed the flight in any danger.
Sheriff Isabella McColl said the reports had shown that Gilmour was not guilty of what she had admitted.
Sheriff McColl said: “The Crown have obtained two opinions from two experts in the Civil Aviation Authority both of whom said it would be impossible for Ann Gilmour to open the door.
“Turning the handle on the door is possible and would activate an alert light in the cockpit but beyond that it would be physically impossible to open the door.”
Sheriff McColl said that bearing the new information available in mind, Gilmour had not endangered the flight and so was not guilty of the culpable and reckless conduct charge.
However, she added, Gilmour’s actions still amounted to a serious breach of the peace, given that passengers on the craft could have been alarmed.
Sheriff courts have no power to reverse a guilty plea once it has been entered and the case will have to be appealed, however Sheriff McColl said she had borne the new information in mind before sentencing.
She said: “Had I been sentencing you today for the offence for which you pled guilty I would certainly have been sentencing you to custody.
“However we have learned that that was not the case.”
Appearing from custody Gilmour – who has been held since January over the charge – was given an 18 month probation order and ordered to take up mental health support.
Gilmour’s solicitor, Ronnie Renucci QC, said that at the time his client had not been conscious of the consequence for her fellow passengers but insisted it had not been a case of “air-rage”.
Mr Renucci added that Gilmour would comply with mental health treatment and asked that Sheriff McColl consider a non-custodial sentence following what had been the equivalent of a 10 month jail term.
Her defence team will now appeal her conviction at the High Court at a later date.
Fiscal depute Alasdair MacLeod had earlier told the court how Gilmour had been a passenger on flight AF50554 from Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris on January 7 this year.
But around one and a half hours into the 10am flight to Edinburgh a member of the cabin crew was horrified to see Gilmour clawing at the handle on an external door.
Mr MacLeod said: “At around 11.30am the aircraft was travelling at approximately 32,000 feet and was midway into the journey.
“At that time the cabin crew became suspicious when they saw the accused standing near to the front forward external door.
“One member of the cabin crew – Francoise Ulbricht- saw the accused hold onto the door handle and attempt to turn the handle to try to open the door.
“Miss Ulbircht pulled the accused away from the door and at that time she was very scared that the door could have opened.
“At the same time the captain of the flight was in the cock-pit and was alerted by a warning light that an external door had been interfered with.”
Mr MacLeod said the member of the cabin crew then told the pilot about Gilmour’s attempt to open the door.
Captain Guillaume Charvieux called ahead to authorities at the Scottish airport to arrange a police contingent to meet the aircraft as it alighted.
Mr MacLeod said: “The captain thereafter contacted air traffic control and requested the attendance of the police at Edinburgh Airport upon the aircraft’s arrival.
“A second cabin crew member – Maria Taunton – escorted Gilmour back to her seat and Gilmour started crying and told Miss Taunton that she had tried to open the door because she wanted to jump out of the plane and kill herself.
“Gilmour was placed in a window seat well away from the doors and the cabin crew kept a close eye on her during the rest of the flight to ensure that she did not get out of her seat.”
The aircraft arrived safely at Edinburgh Airport at around 12.20pm, Mr MacLeod said, and after speaking to both the pilots and the cabin crew of the flight police arrested Gilmour.
Gimour said she understood why she was being arrested but made no reply. However during the short journey from the airport to St Leonard’s Police Station in the capital, she attempted to open the door of the police vehicle.
Mr MacLeod added: “She also told police that she had tried to open the door to kill herself.”
Gilmour went on to tell staff at the station that she suffered from depression and anxiety and added that she would try the same again and did not care about the safety of other passengers.”
Captain Cahrvieux had told prosecutors that if the door had been opened it could have had “catastrophic” consequences for the flight.
Mr MacLeod said: “The captain was asked about the danger to the aircraft and he said it would have been possible for her to open the door as they are closed but not locked.
“It is his view that opening the door at that altitude would have been catastrophic. The cabin would have been explosively depressurised.
“The door would have been blown away with the potential to hit the wing or the engine of the aircraft. There would have been a loss of temperature and visibility.
“The temperature at that height would have been minus 50 degrees centigrade and the aircraft would have taken considerable damage.
However expert reports conflicted with this opinion.