Police: Dead stowaway likely got on as plane idled

AP News
Posted: Apr 19, 2011 4:45 PM
Police: Dead stowaway likely got on as plane idled

A teenager who died after stowing away in the wheel well of a jet flying from Charlotte to Boston likely got onto the plane as it idled for more than half an hour waiting for takeoff, according to a report released by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.

The report obtained Tuesday by the Charlotte Observer said that investigators don't think 16-year-old Delvonte Tisdale was on the plane while it was still at a gate because he likely would have been found during a routine pre-flight inspection. He also wasn't seen on cameras at the gate where the plane pushed off.

Instead, investigators think the teen got on the plane as it waited for takeoff on the tarmac. During that 37-minute wait, there were no other planes nearby, the plane wasn't moving and its engines may have been cut off or idled down _ making the plane seem more approachable _ according to the report.

The teen's badly damaged body was found in November in Milton, Mass., in the flight path near Boston Logan International Airport. Investigators have said Tisdale fell out when the plane lowered its landing gear on its approach, and experts have said he was probably dead before the plane prepared to land. At 20,000 feet, the air inside a wheel well can get thin and drop well below freezing.

Like most airports, Charlotte is surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Police noted that they don't think Tisdale went through a security checkpoint in the airport. But the report doesn't say exactly where investigators think he entered airport property.

Many lines of the six-page report were heavily redacted and unreadable.

Security staff at the Charlotte airport is also lacking, with only one of eight comparable airports surveyed reporting fewer law officers, the report noted. It recommends that airport police hire more contract security guards to beef up staffing levels.

"The current law enforcement agency at CLT does not adequately reflect the type, size and functions of an organization that should be in place at a major metropolitan airport," the report said.

Tisdale's relatives have said the teen was a member of the Air Force ROTC program at North Mecklenburg High School near Charlotte, where the family moved from Greensboro so the teen could join that program.

Anthony Tisdale said his son was happy in Charlotte and stayed out of trouble. But other family members said the teen was unhappy in North Carolina and had never wanted to leave Baltimore, where he had lived earlier.

Christopher Chestnut, an attorney for Tisdale's family, said the teen's family is disappointed in the lack of clarity provided by the police report.

"After six months, there's only six pages," Chestnut said. "I think that the public needs to begin to start asking questons because clearly this is about public safety. ... If someone does have ill intent, clearly it's not that difficult to get in there."