How 747 pilot knocked out drunken pop star

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 12:00am

The pilot of the plane on which a pop star went berserk a week ago described yesterday how he left reserve crew flying the aircraft in their underwear while he knocked out the 'raving, intoxicated' singer with a torch.

Eva Air Captain John Irving said he was forced to intervene when Canto-pop singer Ronald Cheng Chung-kei began throttling his co-pilot - who had gone to rescue a flight attendant from a headlock - in first class.

He said Cheng had been drinking whisky and champagne since take-off and spent 20 minutes smoking in the toilet, which 'just got him whacko'.

Cheng set off the smoke alarm and emerged 'completely intoxicated, very altered and yelling for more whisky' before dozing off in his seat for a while, Captain Irving said.

He started singing and shouting obscenities about three hours into the flight and held a flight attendant in a headlock when she refused to serve him any more whisky.

Captain Irving said her screams sent first officer Meng Lung Chao rushing to her aid. Minutes later, he was calling for help after Cheng grabbed him by the throat. He summoned the resting crew before going to tackle the singer.

'He's a little skinny guy, but when he grabbed me his strength was astonishing.' The two scuffled and Captain Irving split Cheng's head open with his torch. 'He was out for the count, bleeding badly. I was horrified, fearing I had really harmed him.' The pilot called for help from a doctor on board while other crew members handcuffed Cheng.

'He behaved himself meekly for the rest of the flight, passing in and out of consciousness,' Captain Irving said.

The drama took place on Eva Air's February 16 flight from Los Angeles to Taipei; the jet diverted to Anchorage, Alaska, because of Cheng's behaviour.

Cheng, 27, registered a blood alcohol level over 0.3 per cent and has since vowed never to drink again.

He says a sleeping tablet taken before the flight may have reacted badly with the alcohol.

Cheng is now in Los Angeles in his mother's care after being fined US$2,500 (HK$20,000) and ordered to pay restitution to the airline. He has expressed his 'deepest apologies' through his US lawyers.

Captain Irving, 53, from California, was speaking from Taipei, where he is recovering from a back strain sustained in the struggle.