Aviation student tried to steal an American Airlines plane at a Florida airport, cops say

Nishal Kiran Sankat’s Facebook post from May 2017. Sankat has been accused by Melbourne police of trying to steal an airliner at Orlando Melbourne International Airport on Sept. 20, 2018.
Nishal Kiran Sankat’s Facebook post from May 2017. Sankat has been accused by Melbourne police of trying to steal an airliner at Orlando Melbourne International Airport on Sept. 20, 2018. Facebook

A 22-year-old Florida Institute of Technology student who documented his love of aircraft on his social media page has been charged with trying to steal an American Airlines plane.

According to news reports, Nishal Kiran Sankat, a part-time student studying aviation at the Orlando school, hopped aboard an American Airlines plane that was undergoing maintenance near a hangar at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Brevard County early Thursday morning. When he was confronted and dragged off the plane by an airline employee, he tore loose and ran back toward the jet, CBS News reports.

Melbourne police took Sankat into custody and airport spokeswoman Lori Booker praised the airline’s staff and police for taking swift action.

“Within two minutes of creating a problem, we stopped this guy from getting in the air,” Booker told CBS. She also said it appeared Sankat had planned his actions out beforehand.

In August, a similar — but ultimately fatal — incident occurred when a ground service worker stole a plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and flew it for hours until he crashed on a small island.

According to Melbourne police, Sankat is a senior at the Florida Institute of Technology, where he enrolled in 2014 and eyed a graduation in 2019, according to Florida Today.

Sankat comes from a well-respected and well-known family in Trinidad. His father, Clement Sankat, is a former high ranking administrator at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.

In a statement to the Trinidad paper, the Daily Express, the Sankat family said they were focusing “on providing all the legal, mental, emotional and parental support possible. What has occurred acutely underscores to the family the need to be aware of the challenges young students face, especially those living away from home and family.”

The family also thanked those who had reached out during this “extremely difficult period.”

According to his Facebook page, Sankat previously attended Hillview College, a government-assisted Presbyterian secondary school in Tunapuna, Trinidad and Tobago, where he was from.

Police say Sankat, who carries a Florida driver’s license, has dual citizenship with Canada and Trinidad and Tobago. He left the United States after his visa expired, but he returned using his Canadian passport, CBS reported.

The Federal Aviation Association told reporters Sankat received his commercial pilot’s certification in January to fly multi-engine aircraft and was instrument rated but was not qualified to fly the kind of jet he boarded Thursday.

His Facebook timeline is publicly accessible only up to 2015, except for a few recent photos. Earlier posts include a celebratory birthday post for the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 “workhorse airline” that turned 49 in 2014. He posted a photo, taken from behind, of him prepping for descent into the Melbourne International Airport in 2014 while he’s seated next to a co-pilot. There is also a news report post from the Hindustan Times about the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in 2014.

Sankat’s motive has not been made clear. CNN reports he was unarmed, had no explosives, and after searching his home no links to terrorist groups were found.

Sankat is booked at Brevard County Jail and charged with unarmed burglary of an occupied aircraft, grand theft and trespass on airport property, according to jail records. His bond is set at $20,500 on the three charges.

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