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Slater plane story scrutinized

Ever since he was released from jail last week, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater has been basking in the limelight for allegedly sounding off against an irate passenger and using an emergency chute to leave the plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport, but investigators are trying to determine if the stunt inside the jet was a tall tale.

Slater, 38, of Belle Harbor, is due back in Queens Criminal Court Sept. 7 for a follow-up on charges of reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and criminal trespass for the Aug. 9 incident at JFK.

Although he faces up to seven years in prison if convicted, the flight attendant has not been showing any remorse for allegedly cursing out a passenger who got into an argument with him aboard the flight from Pittsburgh on the plane’s PA system, ´╗┐stealing two beers from the cabin and escaping from the plane through the chute.

“Oh, I’ve thought about it for 20 years, but you never think you’re going to do it,” a nonchalant Slater told The New York Times.

Slater and the unidentified female passenger reportedly argued over a piece of carry-on luggage and he was hit in the head with the travel bag. The bump allegedly set him off on his rant.

The ordeal has resonated with people all over the United States who said Slater did the right thing because he was being heckled unnecessarily. In Belle Harbor, where he was arrested last week, a banner was strung up that welcomed Slater as a hero.

A reality show that would feature Slater helping other fed-up workers has been floating around the Internet rumor mill and a Facebook fan page for the flight attendant had more than 211,000 fans and has been growing steadily since the incident.

“Epic Steven! People all over the world love u for that stunt! Hope it was a well tasting beer,” a fan wrote on the page.

Port Authority investigators and administrators at JetBlue, who said Slater has been suspended, are not amused and are trying to find out if her version of the incident is true. PA police have been interviewing passengers who were on the plane to get a better picture of what happened and some have said they never heard any argument, according to PA officials. ´╗┐Slater’s court-appointed attorney claimed the argument began in Pittsburgh, while the PA police said it took place after the flight landed at JFK.

An internal memo issued by JetBlue also questioned the validity of Slater’s story.

“If Mr. Slater’s story proves to be accurate, and even if there was a precipitating event that motivated his behavior, that still doesn’t excuse his actions,” Jet Blue Chief Operating Officer Rob Maruster wrote in the memo.

What is known is Slater did open the chute to leave the plane and the daring slide was caught on a JFK surveillance camera. This move was not pleasing to the Queens district attorney’s office and JetBlue, both of which expressed safety concerns.

“Slides deploy extremely quickly, with enough force to kill a person,” JetBlue said in a memo.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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