MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian judge sentenced a man to 12 years in prison Thursday for threatening to detonate a fake bomb on a Malaysia Airlines flight, terrifying more than 200 passengers and crew.
Manodh Marks, 26, forced the plane to turn back soon after takeoff when he screamed that he had a bomb and ran down the aisle carrying flashing electronic devices. A Sri Lankan studying hospitality in Australia, he pleaded guilty in a Melbourne court to attempting to take control of an aircraft, a federal offense that carries a potential maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The drama came after Malaysia Airlines lost two planes in 2014. Flight 370, carrying 239 people, is thought to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean after flying far off course for reasons still not explained. Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 aboard, and investigators last month said the missile belonged to a Russia-based military unit.
In May last year, an agitated and drug-affected Marks ran down the aisle of the plane holding a portable speaker and a power bank with flashing blue lights.
Judge Michael McInerney said Marks reached the galley outside the cockpit door where he announced he intended to destroy the plane.
"The passengers and crew were not only concerned but convinced that you were indeed in possession of a bomb," McInerney said. "One can imagine the fear and distress of everyone on board."
McInerney said the bomb threat came during the vulnerable takeoff period, distracting the pilot and putting those on board at increased risk.
The pilot made a mayday call to Melbourne air traffic control and turned the plane around. Marks was eventually overpowered by passengers and restrained with cable ties as the flight, bound for Kuala Lumpur, returned to Melbourne Airport.
Police fearing a real bomb made passengers stay on the plane for almost 90 minutes before storming the aircraft and arresting Marks.
His lawyers said Marks had become a regular methamphetamine user and on the night of the flight was suffering a drug-induced psychosis with delusions.
The judge said Marks would be deported to Sri Lanka after serving at least nine years of his sentence.