A flight attendant who was arrested after arguing with a passenger on a JetBlue flight -- making a grand exit from the aircraft by grabbing some beers and pulling the emergency chute -- posted $2,500 bail and is out of jail.
Jet Blue employee Steven Slater, 38, of Belle Harbor, Queens, was arraigned Tuesday on reckless endangerment and other charges after the dramatic incident Monday afternoon. Despite the felony charges, Slater's been elevated to folk-hero status by thousands who shrugged off allegations that he endangered others and praised him for his take-this-job-and-shove-it moment.
Slater's mother, Diane, even went so far as to seem proud of her son for his outburst.
"I can understand why he snapped. I would have snapped too," Diane Slater said Tuesday after Steven pleaded not guilty to the various charges against him. "I think he just had a very small meltdown, and I think he deserve to be able to have that meltdown."
Steven Slater had little to say to reporters Tuesday night when he was released from custody. When asked how he felt about all the outpouring of support Slater said, "It's been very very appreciated. It seems like something here has resonated with a few people. That's kinda neat!"
Courthouse sources told NBCNewYork that Slater was overheard saying "he's not sure how quickly he can make bail." After failing to post bail, he was taken by bus to the Vernon C. Bain intake center in the South Bronx, a jail facility on a barge.
Slater was working on Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh to Kennedy Airport, which landed at around 12 p.m. Monday, when he got into a verbal altercation with a passenger -- a now legendary exploit, which has even been immortalized in a CGI video by the same Taiwanese company that make the Tiger Woods and Al Gore animations.
Following a heated exchange, the flight attendant told off the entire plane on the public address system, activated an emergency chute near the back of the plane and jumped down the evacuation slide and ran for it.
The Assistant District Attorney said the altercation began before the plane left Pittsburgh, when two passengers got in an argument over an oversized piece of luggage and the overhead compartments.
At the arraignment, defense attorney Howard Turman said Slater was under stress because his mother has lung cancer. Afterward, he provided reporters with a different account of what happened aboard the aircraft than the version initially offered by authorities.
Police had said Slater became angry when after a rule-breaking passenger defied requests to stay seated then accidentally hit him in the head with her luggage.
Turman said the dispute had begun earlier, when the flight was still waiting to take off from Pittsburgh, when two female passengers got into an argument over space in the overhead bins. That's when Slater was struck in the head, Turman said.
The dispute flared up again after the plane landed in New York when one of the women, who had been asked to gate-check her bag, was enraged that it wasn't immediately available.
"The woman was outraged and cursed him out a great deal," Turman said. "At some point, I think he just wanted to avoid conflict with her."
Slater asked for an apology but the irate passenger cursed him out, saying in effect "go f--k yourself" and calling him a "mo-fo," according to law enforcement source
Turman said the woman "cursed him out using the f-word both as a verb and an adjective."
Prosecutors said that at some point, Slater addressed the passengers on the intercom.
"Those of you who have shown dignity and respect these last 20 years, thanks for a great ride," he said, according to prosecutors.
Slater then activated the aircraft emergency slide on door R-2, proceeded to the chute, looked down to ensure that nobody was below it as he had been trained to do, and he deployed the device and went down it safely, his attorney said.
He also grabbed some beer from the galley before he took the plunge and then headed for the AirTrain, where other passengers from the flight reportedly saw him on the way home.
Slater was later arrested at his home in Belle Harbor by Port Authority officials. Police sources said that when authorities found Slater he seemed to be in the midst having sexual relations.
He is being charged with 2nd-and 4th-degree criminal mischief, 1st- and 2nd-degree reckless endangerment and criminal trespass in the 3rd degree, according to a spokeswoman for Queens DA Richard Brown. Slater faces up to 7 years in prison if convicted.
Judge Mary O'Donoghue also granted an order of protection preventing Slater from contacting the pilot of the flight or a JetBlue employee who investigated the incident.
Prosecutors said the emergency escape slide deploys at 3,000 pounds of pressure per square inch and "causes a risk of serious physical injury or death if it strikes people working under the aircraft." They also said the cost to replace the escape slide is $25,000, according to Jet Blue security.
But no one was injured in the incident and JetBlue, in a statement, added, "At no time was the security or safety of our customers or crew members at risk."
Slater, a 38-year-old airline veteran who lives steps from the Queens beach a few miles from the airport, had been flying long enough to see much of the gleam of the air travel experience tarnished by frayed nerves, rising fees, plummeting airline profits and packed cabins.
"One by one all of these niceties have been removed from the customer experience. I think subconsciously, it's causing passengers to be very angry,'' said Pauline Frommer, creator of the Pauline Frommer Guides and daughter of Arthur Frommer. "There's an us-versus-them mentality.''
Sentiment online appeared to fall in Slater's court. By early Tuesday afternoon, more than 20,000 people had declared themselves supporters of Slater on Facebook, and the number was growing by thousands every hour. At least one fan set up a legal fund on his behalf.
"Overwhelmingly people said it should have been the passenger who was ejected from the plane,'' said George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com, speaking about response to his site's blog on the incident. "I've never seen such an outpouring of support for a flight attendant.''
Jonathan Dienst contributed to this report.