84-year-old retired worker, practices yoga
File Photo: An 84-year-old retired worker, practices yoga moves at a studio next to his students in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, China, Reuters

A United Airlines flight from Hawaii to Japan had to return to Honalulu after one South Korean passenger attacked passengers and crew members because he was stopped from doing yoga on the flight.

The journey on 26 March was disrupted when cabin crew asked the passenger, who has been identified by the FBI as Hyongtae Pae, to stop doing yoga in the aisle of the plane. When Pae's wife tried also to stop him, he pushed her.

After the situation quickly escalated, the South Korean yogi head-butted and bit US Marines who tried to force him back into his seat while he screamed "there is no god". According to the official FBI complaint following the incident, Pae also threatened to kill the passengers.

At Pae's detention hearing, Assistant US Attorney Darren Ching said the 72-year-old retired farmer should not be released because he was a danger to his wife. Since his arrival at the Honolulu Federal Detention Centre, Pae has been put on suicide watch and urinated on himself, AP reported.

US Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang ordered that Pae be released on $25,000 bond, but with certain conditions including not leaving the island of Oahu and undergoing a mental health evaluation.

Since the arrest, Pae's wife has been staying at the Waikiki Gateway Hotel, defence attorney Jin Tae Kim told the judge, who asked whether Pae had financial resources to continue staying there after his release. Kim said he's working with the consulate to transfer more money to Pae's wife and find alternate, temporary housing. Chang denied Kim's request to allow Pae to return home to Korea, because that would involve getting on a plane again.

Outside of court, Kim said his client travelled from South Korea to celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary with a Hawaii vacation. It was the couple's first trip to Hawaii. Pae only recently took up yoga to help with anxiety, Kim said, adding that he was sleep-deprived during the vacation. Pae told the FBI he hadn't been able to sleep in 11 days.