An upcoming artiste said he thought it would be ‘good publicity’ to film himself shouting that he had coronavirus on a plane carrying 243 passengers.
The flight from Toronto to Jamaica was forced to turn back and make an emergency landing after James Potok, 28, declared: ‘Can I get everybody’s attention please. I just came back from Hunan province, the capital of the coronavirus. I’m not feeling too well. Thank you.’
He later said ‘it was simply a joke’ and that he had hoped to go viral on Instagram with the prank, which saw him being escorted off the plane in a mask and gloves that airline staff made him wear.
Potok was arrested and charged with mischief after the WestJet plane was forced to turn back and a second flight was also cancelled as a result.
The aspiring musician, who calls himself Potok Philippe and has more than 30,000 Instagram followers, told City News in Toronto: ‘It would be something else if I said “hey guys I have a bomb strapped to me, I have a weapon on me”, people blew it out of proportion. To me it was simply a joke.
‘About mid-way through the flight I stood up, pulled my video camera out – I was going to post it to Instagram, send it to 6ixbuzz so it goes viral.’
He said he was shocked when nobody laughed and said within 15 minutes cabin crew staff were wearing masks and put him in a mask and gloves as well.
Video and pictures filmed by other passengers showed him being escorted from his seat by staff.
Potok added: ‘I’m very, very sorry for my ignorance and not understanding that its an epidemic, that people hear the word and its become synonymous with threats.
‘I thought it would spark a reaction. I did not think what I was doing would be considered illegal [or] warrant that type of response.
‘In retrospect it probably wasn’t the best thing to do.’
Passenger Julie-Anne Broderick posted on Facebook that the man ‘pretended he had the coronavirus as a hoax to post to YouTube’, adding: ‘Little did he know, Jamaica and the US wouldn’t accept our flight so back to Canada we came where he was detained for a federal offence.’
‘I guess this guy thought it was a funny joke but it’s just really weird.
‘We were all very frustrated, to just displace 240 people, it’s just so selfish. We’ve lost a day of our vacation.’
Investigators confirmed Potok was assessed by medical staff when he arrived back at Pearson Airport in Toronto and he did not have the virus.
He will appear at the Ontario Court of Justice on Monday, March 9.