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Booze-fuelled fracas forces Cuba-bound flight to turn back; two women charged

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TORONTO - A booze-fuelled fight between two women who were allegedly drinking and smoking in an airplane bathroom prompted Sunwing to turn a Cuba-bound flight back to Toronto, the airline said — along with a brief military jet escort.

The women also made a threat against the aircraft, but "it was considered non-credible given their condition," Sunwing's Janine Chapman said in a statement.

Nonetheless, two Toronto-area women are now facing charges of smoking on board an aircraft, endangering the safety of an aircraft, mischief endangering life, mischief over $5,000 and uttering threats.

Lilia Ratmanski, 25, of Whitby, and Milana Muzikante, 26, of Vaughan, were granted bail Thursday.

The flight left Toronto at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday en route to Varadero via Manzanillo, but was disrupted by "two unruly female passengers," Sunwing said.

The women consumed a "significant quantity of their duty-free alcohol purchase in the lavatory and lit a cigarette, triggering the smoke detector alarm," Chapman said. "The passengers proceeded to get into a physical altercation with each other and made a threat against the aircraft."

The pilot decided to turn the plane around over South Carolina and "that's when NORAD got involved," said Major Julie Roberge, a spokeswoman for NORAD based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

NORAD scrambled two CF-18 fighter jets based out of Bagotville, Que., to escort Flight 656 back to Toronto. The jets met the aircraft at the Canadian border and did not venture into American airspace, Roberge said.

The CF-18 escort lasted just four minutes, she said.

The aircraft landed at Pearson International Airport at about 8:30 p.m. and Peel Regional Police Const. Thomas Ruttan said the entire plane "erupted in cheers" when the two women were removed from the aircraft.

The flight took off for a second time from Toronto around 11 p.m. Wednesday with a new flight crew, Chapman said.

When there is an incident on board an aircraft the pilot reports the disturbance to their traffic control centre, said NORAD spokeswoman Army Capt. Ruth Castro. The control centre then relays the incident to the Domestic Event Network, which is hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration, she said. NORAD monitors the event network and responds based on the level of the disturbance, Castro said.

She couldn't say what information NORAD had about the situation on board the Sunwing flight at the time it scrambled the jets, "but the purpose of that DEN is to provide timely notification to the appropriate authorities that there is an emerging air-related problem or incident," Castro said.

"Just out of an abundance of precaution or caution NORAD jets were launched and they monitored the situation from the air."

NORAD also used two American F-16 fighter jets based out of Toledo, Ohio in late July as a precautionary to escort another Sunwing flight as it returned to Toronto.

A 25-year-old man allegedly made a "direct threat" to the aircraft and it was turned back to Toronto about 45 minutes into the flight to Panama City.

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