Student charged with trying to steal American Airlines jet

Irving Hamilton
September 22, 2018

The family of the man accused of attempting to steal an aircraft from a Florida airport on Thursday says its current focus is on providing all the legal, mental, emotional and parental support possible.

Nishal Sankat was charged with criminal theft of an aircraft, criminal trespassing and visa violation hours after U.S. authorities claimed he allegedly hopped a fence at the Melbourne International Airport in Florida and boarded a commercial airplane in a maintenance hangar.

In a statement issued to the Trinidad Express newspaper on behalf of the family, Sankat's parents said they were not sure what had transpired and the incident "acutely underscores to the family the need to be aware of the challenges young students face, especially those living away from home and family".

Melbourne police took Sankat into custody and airport spokeswoman Lori Booker praised the airline's staff and police for taking swift action.

Police said they searched Sankat's home and confiscated his electronics, but at this time, authorities said there is no evidence to indicate a connection to terrorism.

Sankat was charged in Florida state court with attempted theft of an aircraft, burglary and criminal trespassing, Renee Purden, chief of police for the Orlando Melbourne International Airport told reporters. He posted a photo, taken from behind, of him prepping for descent into the Melbourne International Airport in 2014 while he's seated next to a co-pilot. He is a part-time Florida Institute of Technology aviation student, according to the university.

"A male subject was seen running from the auto, jumping the fence running across the apron and boarded an airbus 321 which was not in service at the time", Booker said.

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The American Airlines plane was at a maintenance facility for the installation of broadband WiFi, a spokeswoman for the airline said in an email.

But after he was dragged from the plane, he broke free, running back toward the jet.

"Within two minutes of creating a problem, we stopped this guy from getting in the air", Booker said.

He is a dual citizen of Canada and Trinidad and Tobago with no criminal history, Gillespie said.

All employees and passengers were removed from the terminal during the incident, which caused two flight delays and interrupted airport operations for about five hours. He was not armed at the time but police searched his vehicle for explosives before towing it away.

"We are pretty proud of the security success that we had", Booker said. "You can rest assured that we believe that in this instant, our security worked just fine", Booker said.

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