Crime & Courts

Man who attacked flight attendant will pay back nearly $50,000 for plane’s diversion to Anchorage

A man who attacked and threatened to kill a flight attendant last year was ordered Tuesday in federal court to repay the nearly $50,000 it cost to divert the plane to Anchorage and accommodate more than 200 passengers on board.

Seksan Kumtong — now 52 — had been acting strangely since boarding a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Narita, Japan, last February, Brenden Ryan, an FBI special agent in Anchorage, wrote in an affidavit supporting a criminal complaint. Crew members decided to cut him off from receiving alcoholic beverages and he fell asleep in his seat for a period of the flight, the affidavit said. After he awoke, he became agitated when he was denied another drink, according to the affidavit.

The agitation gave way to violence and the affidavit said Kumtong struck a flight attendant in the face and pulled them to the ground.

“I will kill you,” he shouted at the flight attendant, along with other obscenities, the affidavit said.

Kumtong, who is from North Hollywood, California, has suffered from uncontrolled diabetes for years, his attorney, assistant federal defender Sam Eilers, said in a sentencing memorandum. When combined with alcohol consumption, that can lead to “severe hypoglycemia and consequent combativeness,” Eilers wrote. He said the reaction in this case was not an excuse, but does partially explain why Kumtong acted so violently.

The flight was diverted to Anchorage and vouchers were provided for meals and hotel stays to the airplane staff and 214 passengers on board, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Charisse Arce. In total, the diversion cost $49,793.

During a sentencing hearing Tuesday morning, Judge Timothy Burgess said that “this is more than just an expensive inconvenience to everybody on that flight, but there’s actually a real victim in this case that has suffered physical consequences for his conduct.” The flight attendant has lasting medical conditions as a result of the assault, he said.

Kumtong pleaded guilty in November to a charge of interference with flight crew members and attendants.

As Burgess sentenced Kumtong to the five years of probation, he acknowledged the role the pandemic played in the decision: Kumtong is especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of his diabetes, and serving a sentence in a prison would put him at risk because the virus spreads rapidly in congregate facilities and Alaska’s correctional facilities have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Kumtong will also pay back the $49,793 in restitution.

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