Charlotte airport plans no special review after apparent stowaway

Charlotte airport plans no special review after apparent stowaway

Charlotte airport plans no special review after apparent stowaway

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by Steve Harrison / Charlotte Observer

Steve Harrison / Charlotte Observer

Posted on December 14, 2010 at 10:00 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Despite what a Massachusetts prosecutor called a major breach of security at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, aviation director Jerry Orr said Monday night that the airport doesn't plan any special review of security after a teenager apparently stowed away in the wheel well of a US Airways jet.

Delvonte Tisdale, a North Mecklenburg High sophomore, likely fell from the Boeing 737 on approach to Boston's Logan International Airport, authorities in Massachusetts believe.

The Transportation Security Administration is responsible for screening passengers and luggage for weapons or explosives, and the city of Charlotte is responsible for security measures such as fencing, locks on doors and other ways to restrict access to planes.

"We'll take a look at that," Orr told the Observer before a City Council meeting Monday night. "But we take a look at that all the time."

The TSA said last week it was planning to investigate how the 16-year-old Tisdale could get on the Charlotte airport tarmac and into the left wheel well of the plane. The federal agency declined to comment further.

Orr said the airport didn't have a lot of information yet about the apparent breach, which happened Nov. 15.

"The Massachusetts police is investigating," Orr said. "All we know is what we have read in the paper."

On Friday, Norfolk, Mass., District Attorney William Keating called the incident a serious public safety issue.

"It appears more likely than not that Mr. Tisdale was able to breach airport security and hide in the wheel well of a commercial jet airliner without being detected by airport security," Keating said.

The fear is that if a 16-year-old could climb into a passenger jet's wheel well, a terrorist could do the same.

Orr said he hasn't spoken with US Airways about how Tisdale might have gotten access to the jet.

Keating told the Boston Globe that his office had found fingerprints in the wheel well of a plane, which he identified as a US Airways jet.

Sneakers and a shirt believed to be Tisdale's were recovered last week along the flight path, Keating told the Globe. The items, which were stained with what appeared to be grease used in airplanes, were found about a half mile from where the boy's body was found last month.

On Monday night, Orr said he wouldn't speculate on how Tisdale might have gotten onto the tarmac and into the plane's wheel well.

Orr said the airport is surrounded by a 6-foot-high chain-link fence, topped by strands of barbed wire.

Even though it was dark when Keating believes Tisdale climbed inside the plane, there likely would have been numerous US Airways employees on the tarmac near the plane.

Charlotte is the airline's largest hub, and US Airways operates nearly 700 flights a day from the airport. Even if there were no airline employees immediately around the Boeing 737, there likely would have been other employees nearby, servicing other jets.

A US Airways spokeswoman reached late Monday declined to comment on what investigation the airline was doing into the incident, citing the ongoing probe in Massachusetts. She also would not comment on how Tisdale might have gotten into the plane.

City Manager Curt Walton, who is Orr's boss, said he hadn't spoken with Orr about security at the city-owned airport.

Airport security wasn't discussed at the City Council's dinner meeting Monday. After the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon said he expected a report from city staff about security measures.

"We need to know that security is as stringent as it should be," Cannon said.

Orr said there have been some security breaches at the airport, but he's never had an allegation of someone climbing into a plane's wheel well.

Charlotte/Douglas hadn't commented on the apparent breach of security until Monday. It released a statement Monday night that said it hadn't commented because it wasn't part of any investigation.

It said that the TSA contacted the airport Monday afternoon, and that it would help in their investigation.

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