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(T&T GUARDIAN) — The son of former University of the West Indies principal Professor Clement Sankat was arrested and charged with attempting to steal a plane at a Florida airport yesterday morning.
Nishal Sankat was charged with criminal theft of an aircraft, criminal trespassing and visa violation hours after US authorities claimed he allegedly hopped a fence at the Melbourne International Airport in Florida and boarded a commercial airplane in a maintenance hangar.
The incident prompted the airport to be shut down for five hours and caused two flights to be delayed. It also quickly made international headlines as media houses initially felt it may have been a possible terrorist threat, as he was only identified as a Trinidadian student who had had flight training and had entered into the US from Canada.
Sankat’s identity was released to the media by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) yesterday afternoon after he was charged.
In a brief phone interview with the T&T Guardian, Professor Sankat confirmed it was his son but said he could make no comment on the matter as he had little idea of what occurred. However, he did confirm that his son had been “very depressed” earlier this week.
Nishal Sankat, a former Hillview College student, was studying Aviation Management at the Florida Institute of Technology. The Florida school confirmed in a statement that he was a part-time student at the institution and had completed flight training there.
Florida news outlets reported that Sankat was challenged by two workers who were on board the plane as he attempted to enter the cockpit. They asked him to show his badge authorising his presence on the aircraft. Instead, he ignored them and attempted to sit in the pilot’s chair. They workers tackled him and after subduing him one of the workers alerted police to the intrusion.
Following his arrest, Lori Booker, a spokesperson for the airport, informed the media of the situation.
“At 2 am this morning a vehicle approached our terminal and parked curbside with the engine running. A male subject was seen running from the car, jumping the fence running across the apron and boarded an airbus 321 which was not in service at the time,” Booker said.
Booker told reporters a robot device was used to ensure nothing dangerous was in the parked vehicle left behind. The car was towed away after it was declared safe. She had earlier confirmed the suspect was student pilot was born in T&T and had entered the United States from Canada and held a valid Florida driver’s license.
The Melbourne Police Department and the FBI responded to the incident while the US Anti Terrorism Task Force was consulted to ensure it was an isolated incident.