DA: Charlotte teen likely fell from wheel well

Delvonte Tisdale

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by Jeff Campbell & Beth Shayne

WCNC.com

Posted on December 11, 2010 at 12:49 AM

Updated Saturday, Dec 11 at 12:45 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Federal officials confirm to NewsChannel 36 there will be an investigation into a potentially major security breach at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.  Investigators believe 16-year-old Delvonte Tisdale breached security, sneaked onto a Boeing 737, and then fell out of midair on approach to Boston’s Logan Airport.

“Based on our investigation, it appears more than likely that Mr. Tisdale was able to breach airport security to hide in the wheel well of a commercial jet liner without being detected by airport security personnel,” said Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating.

Tisdale was found dead on a street in Milton, Massachusetts on November 15th, the very same day he was reported missing in Charlotte.  Initially, police treated it as a crime scene.  After weeks of investigation, though, police have ruled out the possibility of foul play.  The autopsy suggests the body must have fallen from a “significant height.”

DA William Keating acknowledged that police have been investigating the possibility for weeks that Tisdale breached airport security, but only recently has evidence emerged to support the theory.  Investigators found a handprint inside the left wheel well of a Boeing plane.  They also found grease on Tisdale’s clothing that appears to be consistent with airplane grease.  Then on Friday, investigators found another significant clue – a red jacket and Nike sneakers in a wooded area.  Those items will be analyzed by the state crime lab, but DA William Keating said the clothing items are similar to ones worn by Tisdale.

Keating said investigators believe Tisdale rode on a 7 PM flight scheduled to land in Boston at 8:55 PM Monday.

Keating informed the TSA and Charlotte-Douglas about the investigation on Friday.

"To withhold any information at this point I think would endanger public safety," said Keating.

Both the TSA and Charlotte-Douglas officials confirm to NewsChannel 36 an investigation is beginning, although there are questions about who will lead the investigation.  Charlotte-Douglas officials told us because airport security is federal, the feds will lead.

However, in an email to NewsChannel 36, TSA spokesperson Jon Allen wrote, “We will work with the airport, which is responsible for access control security, to conduct a thorough investigation based on the facts and information provided to law enforcement.

There is a barbed-wire fence around the air field. Captain James Ray, a Charlotte-based pilot and head of the pilot's union, told NewsChannel 36 there are cameras that watch the tarmac.

"Did he go through security as a passenger and sneak down the jetway? That’s unlikely because you need a boarding pass to get through security. Which leads you to the next question? Did he sneak maybe under the fence?" Ray said. "The personnel that load and unload the baggage should be able to see someone sneaking around out there.  There are mechanics around on the field.  The pilots do a pre-flight inspection of every aircraft for every takeoff, so a pilot actually walked around this aircraft before it took off...but if a person were hiding up in the wheel well it is not likely that a pilot would see it on pre-flight inspection."

Neither Charlotte-Douglas officials nor the TSA could provide further details on when the investigation will begin, who will lead it, or how long it will take.

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