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 -- is being held on $2,500 bail.
Jet Blue employee Steven Slater, 38, of Belle Harbor, Queens, was arraigned today on reckless endangerment and other charges after the dramatic incident Monday afternoon.
Court house sources tell NBCNewYork that Slater was overheard saying "he's not sure how quickly he can make bail." If he does not post bail by this afternoon he will be transferred to the jail at Rikers Island. Either way, he is due back in court on Sept. 7.
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, law-enforcement sources said.
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 today 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 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, who worked for Delta before JetBlue, had been a flight attendant for 20 years.
He has also received an outpouring of support from working people around the world who say flight attendants endure hard working conditions and, at times, unruly passengers.