Not the place I’d leave a mentally-ill person

The Chinese justice system does not exactly have a good record with the mentally-ill.

So I’m more than a little worried of what’s happened to the offender in today’s mid-air incident between Melbourne and Hong Kong:

A RANTING man threatened to kill terrified passengers onboard a Qantas flight from Melbourne to Hong Kong overnight.

“I’m going to kill myself, you will all die,” he screamed at shocked passengers on flight QF029.

The man was restrained and then:

A Qantas spokeswoman confirmed that there was an incident on QFO29 from Melbourne to Hong Kong where “a passenger became disruptive.”

“Hong Kong authorities met the aircraft on arrival,” she said.

Please tell me that our national carrier did not hand a quite possibly mentally-ill person over to the Chinese justice system.

Did they really have to do that? The offence wasn’t actually committed in China – is that really the right jurisdiction to deal with the matter? Couldn’t Qantas have restrained the man until they reached a country that doesn’t execute people who might well primarily need professional treatment and help?

UPDATE: Obviously, although it’s part of “the Chinese justice system” in a broader sense, Hong Kong has a somewhat different approach to the mainland – for now. I wonder if Qantas would’ve left this man in the hands of the authorities in Beijing – you’d hope not, but I don’t know.

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11 responses to “Not the place I’d leave a mentally-ill person

  1. Couldn’t Qantas have restrained the man until they reached a country that doesn’t execute people who might well primarily need professional treatment and help?

    Flight was between Melbourne and Hong Kong? Doubt they could hold him on the ground against his will in a foreign country? Also why should they have to hold that responsibility?

  2. jordanrastrick

    I only hope hong kong is a different legal jurisdiction than the mainland for this kind of incident.

    In practice, I’m not sure how the airline should resolve a situation like this. Maybe by turning him over to the australian consulate, but getting him there could be a problem, and they likely wouldn’t be very well equipped to handle a psychotic patient either.

    If the person is a foreign citizen, that complicates the matter even further.

    Of course sadly most people wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the thought of simply turning the person over to the local authorities; it wouldn’t even occur that this is an issue.

  3. What do you suggest Qantas should have done? Brought him back to Australia in a plane filled with passengers? Brought him back to Australia in an empty plane?

  4. zaratoothbrush

    From just a glance at the Wikipedia page on HK, it seems to have a more civilised legal system than mainland China, following as it does English Common Law, with appeal channels and everyfink. So maybe the poor bastard has a decent chance after all; let’s hope so.

  5. Well, it’s in Hong Kong, not China… Hong Kong being an SAR, Special Administrative Region.

    Was the man an Australian citizen?

    If not, and considering the plane was headed to HK, it’s their problem and/or someone else’s.

    You’re the big legal eagle, Sear. Was the bloke Aussie?

  6. No idea – all I’ve got to go on is that news.com.au story.

  7. Apparently this guy is an Israeli citizen.

    http://au.news.yahoo.com/a/-/newshome/8093656/detained-passenger-wanted-upgrade/

    “Couldn’t Qantas have restrained the man until they reached a country that doesn’t execute people who might well primarily need professional treatment and help?”

    I’m not convinced that airline staff would know if this guy was suffering from a mental illness or wether he was just being an arrogant jerk throwing a tantrum to get his own way — either way, I don’t believe its up to the staff to continue to restrain problem passengers once they have the opportunity to hand them over to the proper authorities, they have other people and duties related to their job to attend to, they aren’t trained to be police or mental health officials.

  8. Imagine how much press this would be getting if he was from the other side of the West Bank.

  9. jordanrastrick

    I’m not convinced that airline staff would know if this guy was suffering from a mental illness or wether he was just being an arrogant jerk throwing a tantrum to get his own way

    To be honest, that’s because most people wouldn’t know typical symptoms of mental illness from a hole in the ground. Sure, someone who demands an upgrade to business class for no reason, starts praying to God loudly and then screams incoherent threats to jump out of the airplane escape hatch is throwing a “tantrum.” How many sane, rational adults would throw such a tantrum in an expectation of actually getting their own way?

    A Senate commitee once recommended something like 5 or 10% of all frontline customer service staff, operational managers, and OH&S personnel take the award winning, Australian designed, evidence-based Mental Health First Aid Certificate, which introduces people to all kinds of useful obscure facts, such as loud threats to violently and publically commit suicide probably being an indication of disturbed thinking. It is supposed to be a rough approximation of the physical First Aid certificates offered by the likes of St John’s.

    Adoption of this thoroughly sensible idea has of course been almost non-existent. I was in Centrelink once when a man who was clearly severely psychotic got into a loud, utterly incoherent dispute with staff. Not a single person in the entire office had the slightest clue about how to handle the situation; almost every step they took made things worse, until he eventually left of his own accord under the nervous supervision of the security guard. This is from the Federal government agency that has by far the most direct interaction with the mentally ill.

    Likewise, every police department in the nation is desperate to get their hands on tasers, usually justified with a laundry list of cases where a psychotic person waving a knife around was fatally shot. Which is fine, as I’ve argued in the thread about the issue; but police receive almost no specialist training in mental health issues at all, and no one’s making any especially lound noises about changing that state of affairs.

    In one of my previous workplaces, as deputy chair of the OH&S committee I advocated for a few staff to take the two day course for the certificate, which seemed reasonable given all supervisors and managers were obligated to take the St John’s course, and yet I’d witnessed more mental health emergencies affecing customers and (in my own case, a staff member) on site in my 5 years there than physical health emergencies. There was a fair amount of skepticism, managment didn’t support the idea, and it went nowhere.

    The acutely mentally ill, especially psychosis sufferers, can certainly be dangerous and the safety of people around them should be paramount. However, they are usually much more dangerous than they seem, with frequent threats of violence to others that are rarely carried out, and self-harm being far more likely to occur. Schizophrenics and bipolar suffers are often perpetrators of assault, but they are far more frequently victims of it.

    I don’t believe its up to the staff to continue to restrain problem passengers once they have the opportunity to hand them over to the proper authorities

    No, it’s certainly not. However Jeremy’s point is that in this rather tricky case, its possible the authorities in question would be the same ones that executed a delusional foreigner after a 30 minute trial in which the judges openly laughed in court at his demented ramblings, and refused to allow a mental health evaluation because he didn’t provide documentation of his condition to the court.

    Fortunately, “one China, two systems” seems to have worked in this Qantas passenger’s favour. Hong Kong officials have had him placed in a hospital and are observing him. If the flight had been to Beijing, perhaps the story would have had a less pleasant ending.

  10. The Israeli Consulate / Embassy or other government interests in Hong Kong should take over from that point. I don’t think he’ll be left to the mercy of the Chinese Mental Health system.

  11. “Imagine how much press this would be getting if he was from the other side of the West Bank.”

    yeh, its interesting that threatening to blow up a plane in the name of God isn’t terrorism anymore

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