Massachusetts

Unruly Groper Pleads Guilty in Causing London-Bound Flight to Return to Philadelphia

A man, accused of groping three passengers and a flight attendant during a drunken episode that caused a London-bound airplane to return to Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to interfering with a flight crew.

Robert Coppack, 41, pleaded guilty in a Philadelphia courtroom Wednesday, according to court documents obtained by NBC10.com.

By pleading guilty, Coppack avoided going to trial. According to court records, federal prosecutors were prepared to call witnesses including flight attendants, passengers and air marshals.

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Those witnesses would have told the court that Coppack repeatedly touched an 18-year-old college student, at least two other passengers and a flight attendant on board U.S. Airways Flight 728 that left Philadelphia International Airport on May 13.

He had alcohol in a Gatorade bottle, prosecutor Sarah Grieb said. "The student noticed alcohol on the defendant's breath."

After the flight attendants told Coppack not to touch anyone, he allegedly became aggressive, hurling vulgar language at the attendants as well as the passengers around him.

The flight attendants then repeatedly told Coppack to stand up and walk to the back of the aircraft, according to officials. As Coppack walked to the back, he allegedly touched another female passenger, who happened to be a retired flight attendant, on the arm and breast. The passenger claimed Coppack did this on purpose and that the touch was “sexual in nature.”

“He threatened Federal Air Marshals… repeatedly telling them that he was going to “kick ass” and that they should take his handcuffs off and make it an even fight,” read court documents.

Coppack said he was drunk at the time and has battled drug addiction and mental illness. Coppack said he is undergoing treatment and wears an electronic monitoring device, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Coppack could face up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced in December. He also must pay fines.

According to tracking site Flight Aware, the plane was near Cape Cod, Mass., when it made a sharp turn and returned to Philadelphia.

"Flight 728 from Philadelphia to London Heathrow returned to Philadelphia because of a disruptive passenger," US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said after the incident.

After the plane landed back in Philly around 1 a.m. on May 14, Coppack was removed from the aircraft by several law enforcement officers, a moment captured by passenger Kevin Weissman on Twitter.

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