(TRINIDAD NEWSDAY) Trinidad-born aviation student Nishal Sankat, 22, has been arrested and charged by US law enforcement agents for attempting to steal an American Airlines (AA) A321 airbus, which was down for maintenance at the Melbourne International Airport in Florida yesterday.
According to news reports out of the United States, airport spokeswoman Lori Booker said that Sankat is a Florida Institute of Technology student and has been charged with criminal attempt to steal an airplane, criminal trespassing and a visa violation. Florida Tech is located at the airport where the incident occurred.
Florida Tech officials confirmed that Sankat is originally from Trinidad and Tobago and has a Florida driver’s licence and came to the US through Canada.
School officials said Sankat is studying aviation management part time and has completed some flight training.
Booker said Sankat made it into the plane’s cockpit but was detained before he was able to start the engine.
Booker said that Sankat, “attempted to breach the flight deck twice”, breaking away once after having been detained by aviation mechanics, who later caught him again.
The mechanics initially became suspicious of Sankat when he was unable to present an official airport badge. “My understanding is (the mechanic) saw a shadow behind him, turned and challenged the badge and was not satisfied with the response,” Booker said.
Booker said Sankat’s motive for boarding the Airbus 321 at 2 am was unknown.
Sankat is said to have jumped a fence at the airport before boarding the vacant AA airbus.
Several FBI agents were escorted to the Airbus by police while other federal agents were also spotted in a Melbourne apartment complex where Sankat has an address.
Sankat was yesterday held at the Brevard County Jail and is being interrogated by authorities. News of the incident which led to the entire airport being placed on lockdown for several hours, made international headlines and was a lead story on major news networks including the BBC, CNN, ABC News and locally, in Newsday’s online edition.
Local sources said that investigators will liaise with FBI agents based at the American Embassy in Marli Street, Port of Spain to secure information on Sankat’s life and upbringing in Trinidad. Police sources said Interpol will also be asked to assist as well as the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) to secure background checks on the student.
Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said he could not comment on the matter and referred Newsday to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and Minister of National Security Stuart Young.
Yesterday, AG Al-Rawi told Newsday: “I did see the news report making the rounds on social media. I have not been contacted in relation to this matter, however it may very well be that the TTPS through Interpol may have received contact which is yet to come to any ministerial attention if required”.
The airport was on lockdown for about five hours, returning to business as usual by 7 am. Only two flights were affected.
The A321 was next scheduled to fly to Miami at noon yesterday. The aircraft was there for WiFi issues.
Amid claims by local sources last night that Sankat is closely related to retired UWI principal Clement Sankat, Newsday contacted Professor Sankat who while neither confirming nor denying he was Nishal’s relative, told Newsday: “This is a very personal, traumatic situation and I have no further comment to make.”