HONOLULU – A Korean tourist who was arrested after he became violent when he wasn't allowed to do yoga on a plane leaving Hawaii won't get additional jail time. But he must pay United Airlines more than $44,000.
A federal judge in Honolulu on Thursday sentenced Hyongtae Pae to time served, which was about 13 days. He'll be under court supervision for three years, which is the amount of time he has to pay the restitution.
Pae and his wife were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary with a Hawaii vacation and the couple was headed home when he was arrested.
According to court records, Pae didn't want to sit in his seat during the meal service on the March flight from Honolulu to Tokyo, so he went to the back of the plane to do yoga and meditate. Authorities say he refused to return to his seat, threatened crew members and passengers and shoved his wife. The pilot turned the plane around and returned to Honolulu. Pae told authorities after his arrest that he hadn't slept in 11 days.
Court records say he threatened to kill passengers and was yelling that there is no god. Pae went into a rage because he felt the flight crew was ordering him around, prosecutors said.
He pleaded guilty in April to interfering with a flight crew and was allowed to return home to South Korea, even though prosecutors warned he might not return for his sentencing.
U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor said she agrees with prosecutors that Pae's actions constituted a violent felony. Because of that, it's possible he may never be allowed to return to the United States. That's fine by Pae, who is in his 70s and doesn't intend to travel to the United States in the future, said his defense attorney, Jin Tae "J.T." Kim.
"I think your client is getting off very easy" with the $44,235 restitution amount considering the costs of turning the plane around, including jet fuel and all the passengers who had to return to Honolulu, Gillmor said.
"I take this very seriously and I have a great deal of concern about this behavior," she said.
It was a traumatic experience for the passengers and the flight crew, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Otake, adding that it's fortunate there were Marines on board who helped restrain him.
Pae tried to bite and head-butt the two Marines, prosecutors said.
Gillmor said Pae may return to home to Korea, but before he leaves must meet with a probation officer to work out restitution payments.
Pae declined to speak in court. "He didn't say it but he does apologize for what happened," Kim said outside of court. "This is a truly isolated incident." Kim noted that Pae flew to Korea and back without incident.