September 20, 2018 / 8:57 PM / a year ago

Man charged with trying to steal passenger jet at Orlando airport

(Reuters) - A 22-year-old student was charged on Thursday with trying to steal a passenger jet at an Orlando airport, where he jumped a fence and boarded the aircraft but was quickly detained, officials said.

The Florida Institute of Technology student had a commercial pilot’s license but was not qualified to fly the aircraft, an Airbus 321, Orlando Melbourne International Airport spokeswoman Lori Booker told reporters. He did not manage to get the plane moving.

“There is no evidence to indicate a connection to terrorism,” Melbourne Police Chief David Gillespie said at a news conference.

The man’s motive was unknown, Gillespie said, after police searched his home and vehicle and found no weapons or explosives. He did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol.

The man, identified as Nishal Sankat, had parked his car about 150 yards (140 meters) from the plane early on Thursday and kept it running before jumping the airport fence, Booker said. After he reached the flight deck of the plane, two technicians and two security guards detained him before he could attempt to start the aircraft.

“We are pretty proud of the security success that we had,” Booker said. “Within two minutes, not only was he challenged, stopped, detained and arrested, but we prevented much further from happening.”

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

The incident occurred a little over a month after an airline worker stole an empty passenger airplane from Seattle’s airport and crashed it into a nearby sparsely populated island.

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 is a dual citizen of Canada and Trinidad and Tobago with no criminal history, Gillespie said. It was not immediately clear if Sankat had obtained an attorney.

Two flights were delayed at the airport due to the security breach, the airport said on social media.

A representative for the FBI could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sankat’s Facebook page said he was studying aviation management. The page also had a number of aviation-related photos, including the wreckage of a World War Two-era fighter plane in muddy ground.

Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Tom Brown

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