A student pilot at the Florida Institute of Technology is in custody after he allegedly hopped a fence at Orlando Melbourne International Airport and boarded an American Airlines jet that was parked in a maintenance area. Nishal Sankat, a 22-year-old student, has been charged with criminal attempt to steal an aeroplane, a visa violation and criminal trespassing. Sankat drove to the curb outside the airport around 2 a.m. Thursday, left his car running, hopped a fence and boarded the plane, airport spokeswoman Lori Booker said.
A maintenance worker spotted him and police took him into custody a couple of minutes later. Booker said officials conducted a sweep of the airfield before re-opening the airport. In addition, all employees and passengers were removed from the terminal during the incident. It caused two flight delays and interrupted airport operations for about five hours. A senior aircraft pilot said Sankat could not have stolen the plane because it must have an auxiliary power unit and other ground support hooked up in order for the engines to start.
Florida Tech officials confirmed that he was a part-time student at the school and was studying aviation management. He had completed some flight training in the past, school officials said. Sankat has been cooperative with authorities, but his motive for attempting to steal the plane remains a mystery. The airport has returned to normal operations.