Top Irish jockey Paul Carberry was "only messing" when he set a newspaper on fire during a flight, a court heard yesterday.
The 32-year-old former Irish Champion and Grand National winner told Swords District Court that "it was a freak accident".
Carberry was arrested in October after the incident on board an Aer Lingus flight from Malaga to Dublin.
However, according to an air hostess on flight 583, passengers were left fearing for their lives after smoke was detected in the cabin.
Flight attendant Heather Warren said: "It was very, very scary. There were a few passengers who were crying and asking was everything OK and was there a fire. There was a lot of screaming."
The court, which was packed with Carberry's supporters, heard the jockey had been sitting in row 18 when the fire broke out on October 1.
He and a group of friends had been returning from a week's holiday in Malaga.
The fire was discovered by a stewardess 15 minutes after departure. Ms Warren claimed those sitting in rows 14 to 22 would have noticed the smoke.
Passenger Richard Callaghan, who was sitting in the row behind Carberry, said: "I stood up and I could see flames and smoke in front."
Judge Patrick Brady heard when a second crew member went to investigate, Carberry handed over a lighter and the Irish Times which had caught fire.
Francis Clancy said in court that Carberry told him: "I did not mean to do it. I was only messing."
The captain, Paul Scully, was then alerted and he contacted gardai who were waiting on the flight, with 205 people on board, when it touched down in Dublin.
Captain Scully said: "In my professional experience, a fire on board a cabin would be catastrophic but by the time it was reported to me it was out."
Giving evidence Carberry, who denies engaging in threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, described the incident as a "freak accident".
He said: "I was flicking my lighter, fidgeting, talking to someone across the aisle.
"I had no intention of lighting the paper. It was a freak accident. I was not concentrating."
The court was told Carberry, who won the Grand National on Bobbyjo in 1999, had apologised and co-operated fully with the investigation.
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'Would the defendant, an experienced jockey, have acted similarly in a stable or a transporter containing straw or hay? I would suggest emphatically not.'
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