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Man sentenced for attack on First Air flight attendant

A First Air aircraft waits outside the company's Yellowknife hangar in 2018
A First Air aircraft waits outside the company's Yellowknife hangar in 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

An aircraft becomes a small community when it takes off and passengers deserve a safe and peaceful environment, a judge said this morning.

But one 34-passenger flight had its peaceful environment disrupted on the tarmac in Hay River a year ago, when a drunken passenger threw a bear-hug on a flight attendant who took his drink.

A court heard the First Air flight attendant was left with serious psychological injuries and unable to work for two months after the incident on January 26, 2018.

She still fears working the Yellowknife to Hay River flight.



Her attacker, 61-year-old William Max Mahoney, apologized in court to passengers and the flight attendant – who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and could not work for two months.

But Judge Bernadette Schmaltz was having none of his apology.

“An aircraft essentially becomes a community in itself when it takes off,” she said, as Mahoney looked on from beside his lawyer.

“Everyone on a plane is part of it and has to stay in it. Every person on that aircraft has the right to be in a just, safe, and peaceful environment.



“Mr Mahoney’s behaviour on that aircraft that day made it anything but peaceful and safe. There was absolutely no excuse for his antics that day.”


Before sentencing Mahoney to just under four months in total for the aircraft incident and other breaches of court orders – which took into account an equivalent of 63 days of pre-trial – she detailed his criminal record, containing 40 prior “mostly alcohol-related” entries.

“I don’t find Mr Mahoney’s remorse sincere,” the judge noted, as Mahoney had also apologized to his victims in previous court hearings but continued to re-offend.

“You can’t expect to get credit for remorse if you don’t change.

“You are incorrigible.”

Earlier this week, the court heard Mahoney and a woman he had a court order not to be with were returning from Yellowknife to Hay River when the incident occurred.

The pair had been attending the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ hearings in Yellowknife, supporting the woman’s mother, who was testifying.

The pair were drinking on the no-alcohol 30-minute flight from a container that had been snuck on the aircraft, and Mahoney was “being unruly” throughout the flight, the court heard.



Defence lawyer Balji Rattan said they were eager to get to a 60th birthday party planned for Mahoney.

While taxiing to the terminal after the flight, Mahoney undid his seatbelt and stood up, forcing the flight attendant to walk from the rear of the plane to deal with him.

Mahoney stumbled and fell, his belongings scattering on the floor, including the container from which they had been drinking. The flight attendant started to pick them up when Mahoney lunged at her.

“He came at me,” the flight attendant testified at an earlier trial in Hay River, with Mahoney throwing his arms around her from behind. The pair fell into the bulkhead of the aircraft as Mahoney grabbed for his bottle.

The attendant was able to free herself and contact the pilot. RCMP then met the aircraft, with the passengers having to wait until Mahoney was cuffed and taken off the airplane.

Judge Schmaltz said the attendant “was very upset, frightened and worried about the other passengers.”

The attendant said she was unable to fight back.

“This offence had a profound effect on her,” said the judge. “Her duties are not just giving out snacks and pillows … she has duties related to passenger safety. When a passenger becomes unruly, a plane is not like a bar … when someone can be asked to leave. No one can leave a situation on a plane.”



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Following the incident Mahoney was released on bail, with a condition not to have alcohol or be intoxicated in public, but he was again in trouble with police later in 2018.

On July 26, police were called to his Kátł’odeeche First Nation residence where he was found drunk in nearby bushes. A trial was held in Hay River last October, where he pleaded guilty to several of the lesser charges.

Last December 6, when Mahoney was to be sentenced in Hay River after being found guilty on the outstanding charges, he failed to show up in court. He was later arrested and held until the sentencing hearing this week.

After accounting for his pre-trial custody, Schmaltz sentenced him to: 90 days for assault; 15 days to be served at the same time for mischief; an added 27 days for breaching the Aeronautics Act; 30 days to be served at the same time for breaching a court order; 15 days, also to be served concurrently, for breaching another court order; and 45 days to be served concurrently for failing to appear in court.

Mahoney will also be under probation for one year when released, with an order not to contact the flight attendant in any way.