MELBOURNE, Fla. – A Florida Institute of Technology student pilot faces several charges, including criminal attempt to steal an airplane, after authorities said he jumped a fence and boarded an American Airlines jet early Thursday at Orlando Melbourne International Airport.
Melbourne police, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force are investigating the incident, which took place in a maintenance area at 1 Air Terminal Parkway and forced authorities to close the airport.
The 22-year-old man, who has a Florida’s driver’s license, is from Trinidad and Tobago and entered the United States through Canada, airport spokeswoman Lori Booker said. His name has not been released.
Florida Tech officials later identified the man as a part-time student who’s studying aviation management at the Melbourne university. He had completed some flight training, according to Florida Tech.
NEW: @floridatech confirms student pilot suspected of breaching @AmericanAir jet early this morning at @FlyMLB studied at FIT @news6wkmg pic.twitter.com/GsIEMkeI74
— James Sparvero (@News6James) September 20, 2018
“It would be inappropriate for the university to release the suspect’s name, and law enforcement is continuing its investigation,” Florida Tech officials said in a statement. “University officials will collaborate with authorities to further review this matter. No additional information is available at this time.”
According to Booker, the man parked curbside at the airport at 2 a.m., left his car running and jumped a fence before boarding an Airbus 321.
Two workers — a technician and a supervisor — were on the plane and tackled the man when he wouldn’t answer their questions, Booker said.
One of the workers called police while the other held the man, Booker said. The man tried to get away, but the workers were able to hold him until police arrived and arrested him, according to Booker.
The man was taken into custody about two minutes after police were called, Booker said. It’s not known if he had any weapons.
The 22-year-old is charged with criminal attempt to steal an airplane, a visa violation and criminal trespassing. His motive unknown at this point, Booker said.
It wasn’t immediately known if the plane, which can hold about 200 passengers, was fueled, according to officials.
The car left abandoned by the man was searched by robots before being towed away, Booker said.
The man was caught and arrested by @FlyMLB police within two minutes, a maintenance worker saw him and was quickly able to notify. #news6 pic.twitter.com/IET8gzLzV3
— Sachelle Saunders (@SachelleOnAir) September 20, 2018
The airport, which handles about 500,000 passengers a year, was evacuated and authorities conducted a security sweep of the entire airport, which reopened about five hours later, according to Booker.
Two flights were delayed because of the incident, Booker said.
Melbourne resident Manan Karia told News 6 partner Florida Today that he approached the airport about 5 a.m. on NASA Boulevard to try to catch a 6 a.m. Delta flight to Austin, Texas.
“I drove by Keiser and Sears and saw a bunch of cars in both parking lots, which I thought was weird. I get to the airport and there is a line about five cars deep, and a police officer has the entrance blocked with his car and lights are flashing. You can see more police cars with lights flashing around the airport,” Karia said.
“I finally get up to the officer, and he proceeds to tell me the airport is shut down and asks if I’m an employee or a passenger. I let him know I’m a passenger, and he tells me to go park at the Keiser parking lot. That’s all the info they provided,” Karia said. “I was just scouring Twitter and the internet trying to get more after that.”
Karia and a group of fellow passengers drove from the Keiser University parking lot shortly after 7 a.m., then entered the airport.
“It was the longest security line I can remember seeing in Melbourne,” he said.
Thursday’s security breach was thwarted quickly, unlike some recent incidents that drew national attention.
Last month at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, an apparently suicidal Horizon Air luggage handler entered the cockpit of an unoccupied Bombardier Q400 turboprop, took off and flew for an hour before crashing into Ketron Island.
An investigation is ongoing.
Melbourne International Airport is closed until further notice due to police activity. ALL flights suspended at this time. Please avoid the area and we will update you with more information. @MelbourneFL
— Melbourne Police (@MelbournePolice) September 20, 2018
Officials initially said the man was 26 years old.
Watch News 6 and stay with ClickOrlando.com for updates.
Copyright 2018 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.