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At 2am on Thursday, 22-year-old Florida Institute of Technology student Nishal Sankat was caught attempting to steal a plane from Orlando Melbourne International Airport (MLB) in Florida.
According to USA Today, Sankat had pulled up to the passenger terminal and jumped the fence to the tarmac. He left his car abandoned and running on the other side as he proceeded to enter an out-of-service American Airlines Airbus — likely an A321, given its capacity that USA Today describes as up to 200 passengers. An avionics technician that was working in the galley of the plane immediately caught on to the fishy behavior, questioning Sankat before attempting to escort him into the main hangar facility to contact the police. However, Sankat made a break for it.
“The original employee plus our shift manager jumped in one of our golf carts and impeded his process from getting back to the airplane — he was heading back to the airplane,” STS Aviation Group President Mark Smith.
With the help of other maintenance employees, Sankat was held to the ground before his second run to the Airbus. The workers who were holding him down contacted the Melbourne Airport Police Department and Sankat was taken into custody by two policemen shortly after.
Following the incident, the airport was put on lockdown until 7am that morning. The Joint Terrorism Task Force, led by the FBI, is investigating Sankat, who was revealed to be an aviation management student from Trinidad and Tobago, as well as a student pilot at the time. He is currently facing charges of criminal attempt to steal an airplane.
Lori Booker, a spokesperson for Melbourne International, described the technician and his fellow maintenance workers as heroes. According to Booker, Greg Donovan, executive director of the airport, told the men, “I want you to know how very grateful we are for your heroic actions and quick thinking.” Last month, an airliner was stolen and crashed by a rogue employee at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Due to the help of a few astute individuals and their quick thinking, this incident never escalated to such a tragic extreme.
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