YouTuber apologises coronavirus prank that forced plane to turn back

A Youtuber has apologised for diverting an entire flight after he joked about not feeling well amid the coronavirus crisis.

Potok Philippe, whose real name is James Potok, was on board a WestJet flight from Toronto to Jamaica when he stood up and, filming himself, said he had just visited “Hunan China” and “didn’t feel well”.

Potok, who was on his way to Jamaica to film a rap video, claimed his joke was taken the wrong way.

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A flight attendant asked him to put on gloves and a mask and to move to a different seat.

He says he told her he was “just kidding” and had “never been to China”, but his prank had already set events in motion.

In a video uploaded to his YouTube channel, Potok said: “I was sequestered at the back of the plane and the pilot said, ‘there has been a coronavirus hoax and we are now returning to Toronto.’

“This is when I realised I had triggered a chaotic situation.”

He claimed that the joke he made related to eating in a Chinese restaurant in Hunan, not Wuhan, and “not feeling well” because of eating Chinese food.

“This was blown out of proportion,” said Potok. “I am here to apologise today for any issues and all problems that I caused for everybody involved in the situation.”

He added: “It was never my intent to harbour fear or create a panic on the plane.”

Potok said he had intended to create a comedy, viral video.

The WestJet flight had been nearing Montego Bay when it was forced to turn back by Potok’s actions.

“A male was causing a disturbance on the flight, saying he had been to China and had the coronavirus,” a police spokeswoman told Reuters at the time.

A WestJet spokesperson told The Independent: “WestJet flight 2702 from Toronto to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica diverted back to Toronto due to an unruly guest. 

“We sincerely apologise to the 243 guests who were affected by this unfortunate situation. 

“Law enforcement and EMS personnel were requested to meet the flight upon arrival in Toronto. 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 was arrested and charged with mischief, and will appear in court on 9 March.

The first case of coronavirus was recorded in Wuhan, China in December 2019; since then it has spread to 26 countries, with more than 28,000 confirmed cases.

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