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Police: Foreign student pilot had to be dragged from aircraft in criminal attempt to steal a plane

A 22-year-old foreign student pilot is accused of attempting to steal an American Airlines plane from the Orlando Melbourne International Airport. (Image source: Video screenshot)

A foreign student pilot was arrested in Florida on Thursday, after allegedly climbing over a barbed-wire-topped fence and boarding a commercial aircraft at Orlando Melbourne International Airport. The 22-year-old has been charged with criminal attempt to steal a plane.

What are the details?

Authorities say that around 2 a.m., part-time aviation management student Nishal Sankat parked his vehicle outside the airport and left it running while he scrambled over the fence near a hangar. He then climbed aboard an American Airlines plane that was undergoing maintenance.

Airport spokesperson Lori Booker told the media that an avionics technician was in the plane's galley at the time, and saw Sankat's shadow when the suspect boarded the plane.

"He turned around and said, 'Who are you? Show me your badge," Booker reported. She said the employee then told Sankat, "Get on the ground, mister. You're in trouble."

The technician then grabbed Sankat and hauled him off the plane with the help of another tech. While one of them held the suspect down, another called the police.

But after being dragged off the plane, Sankat tore away from the employees and darted back toward the plane. He was soon apprehended by police, charged with attempting to steal the jet, and faces criminal trespassing charges and a visa violation.

Sankat is a native of the Caribbean dual-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, and entered the U.S. through Canada. He has been a student at the Florida Institute of Technology since 2014, has a Florida driver's license and a commercial pilot's license. But he is not licensed to fly the Airbus 321 he boarded.

Authorities say the suspect was not armed, but they used a robotic arm to search his vehicle for explosives before having it towed away. Sankat's home was also searched and his electronics have been confiscated.

The airport returned to normal after five hours, following a sweep of the airfield.

Police are still investigating Sankat's intentions for boarding the plane, but say that at this time there is no evidence to connect the suspect's actions with terrorism.

Anything else?

Booker hailed the actions of the airport employees for their quick response to the breach.

"Within two minutes of creating a problem, we stopped this guy from getting in the air," CBS News reported. "We're obviously going to review all our security. You can rest assured that we believe that in this instance, our security worked just fine."

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