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Orlando Melbourne International Airport reopens after student pilot tries to access jet

Posted at 3:51 AM, Sep 20, 2018

A student pilot is in custody after he allegedly hopped a security fence early Thursday at Florida's Orlando Melbourne International Airport and boarded a passenger jet that was undergoing maintenance, an airport spokeswoman said.

The student, who is originally from Trinidad and had a Florida driver's license, parked his red sedan curbside around 2 a.m. before jumping the fence, running across the apron and boarding the American Airlines Airbus A321, spokeswoman Lori Booker told reporters at a news conference.

"There obviously seemed to be planning involved," she said.

It was the second time in recent weeks that someone illegally boarded an aircraft at an American airport. In Seattle last month, the plane was actually stolen.

In the latest incident, a maintenance supervisor and a technician were aboard the aircraft when one noticed a shadow behind him, Booker told CNN in a separate interview. The employees asked for the student's identity and badge. When the student approached the cockpit, the maintenance workers grabbed him, held him down and took him off the aircraft, she said.

Airport police arrived on the scene within 2 minutes and apprehended the 22-year-old student, Booker said. He has not been identified. His motive remains a mystery.

A sticker on the student's car indicated he lived in the area at least recently, as did some of his Facebook posts, she said. She was not sure which flight school he attended.

The student was at Brevard County Jail early Thursday, she said.

He had not been booked into the jail, and no charges had been filed, jail spokesman Tod Goodyear said.

Orlando-Melbourne is a popular airport for overhaul and maintenance, Booker said, and it's not unusual to have as many as eight jets parked on the tarmac outside the repair center.

In addition to airport police, the Melbourne Police Department, FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force responded to the scene. Authorities searched the red sedan with a robotic arm before towing it away around 7:30 a.m. Booker said it was safe to assume his home was being searched.

The airport was on lockdown for about five hours, returning to business as usual by 7 a.m., Booker said. Only two flights were affected, she said.

"We are now a fully functioning airport," she told reporters. "We believe in this instance our security worked just fine."

The A321 was next scheduled to fly to Miami at noon Thursday. Its last flight was out of Miami on Sunday.

The airline had five jets at the maintenance center, an American Airlines spokesman said. Four of them, including the aircraft that was illegally boarded, were there for Wi-Fi issues.

American Airlines referred all other questions to the FBI, which released a statement confirming it was involved in the investigation.

The FBI responded to a similar incident last monthwhen a ground service agent stole a turboprop passenger plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. F-15 jets were scrambled to chase the plane, which crashed on Ketron Island, between Tacoma and Olympia, killing the pilot.

CORRECTION: The headline on this story has been updated to clarify the location of the airport where the incident occurred.

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