WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A WestJet plane turns around mid-flight after a man told his fellow passengers that he was infected with the coronavirus.
- James Potok, 28, was arrested after trying to create a viral video for publicity.
- More than six hundred guests were affected in flight cancellations and delays after the prank Potok pulled.
James Potok made a WestJet plane flying from Toronto to Montego Bay, Jamaica turn around mid-flight after falsely claiming that he was infected with the coronavirus, all in hopes to create a viral video to post on social media.
“Well, I had my camera with me. I was looking to get a viral video,” Potok told Global News on Tuesday. He justifies his actions by saying that he is an aspiring musician, and “Any publicity for myself is good publicity.”
Peel Regional Police reported that at 12:59 PM, Potok “stood up and announced that he had been to China and ha[d] the coronavirus.” The announcement was passed along the flight crew, who then decided to fly the airplane back to Toronto’s Pearson Airport.
WestJet told PEOPLE that the flight was diverted due to “an unruly guest,” and that “out of an abundance of caution our crew followed all protocols for infectious disease on board, including sequestering an individual who made an unfounded claim regarding coronavirus.”
Potok in an interview with CBC News on Tuesday detailed the accounts of the incident: “I said: ‘I just returned from a flight from Hunan province.’ I might have said: ‘This is the capital for coronavirus.’ And then I said: ‘I don’t feel too well.’ And I looked around. I saw the reception of the people. They didn’t seem too happy about it. I don’t blame them. And I stopped recording and I sat back down in my chair.”
Potok is now facing Mischief and Breach of Recognizance charges. He will appear in front of the Ontario Court of Justice on Monday, March 9, 2020, for his hearing, says Peel Regional Police. There are no reports of legal representation to speak on Potok’s behalf to this date
Following flight cancellations and delays attributable to the ill-considered publicity stunt affected more than 600 guests, most of whom are headed to Montego Bay for a vacation.
Two WestJet flights were canceled, and extra segment flights needed to be scheduled because of the incident.
Potok now shows guilt for his regrettable actions. Telling CBC, “I am completely remorseful to everybody that I damaged their plans. To WestJet, I am apologetic, very sorry for the situation at hand,” he said, adding: “Coronavirus is not something to joke about. People don’t take it lightly.”
There are 24,324 cases of coronavirus infection in China with 490 dead, as of Wednesday —surpassing the 2002-3 SARS number of infection. The 2019-ncoV mortality rate is at two percent, smaller than that of SARS, measured at about 10 percent.