American Airlines Mechanic Charged With Sabotaging a Plane Loaded with Passengers

Surveillance video shows the man inserting a piece of foam in a compartment under the cockpit
September 6, 2019, 1:53pm
Surveillance video shows the man inserting a piece of foam in a compartment under the cockpit

An American Airlines mechanic was arrested Thursday on charges of sabotaging navigation equipment on a plane with 150 passengers awaiting takeoff.

The man’s apparent motive? He was mad about a stall in union contract negotiations.

The New York Times, citing a criminal complaint, reported that Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani told authorities he messed with the air data module system on a flight from Miami to the Bahamas on July 17.

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Surveillance video reportedly shows Alani inserting a piece of foam in a compartment under the cockpit to tamper with the air data module system. The navigation system Alani allegedly tampered with is tasked with tracking a plane’s pitch — how the plane is aligned — and air speed as well as other key information.

If the aircraft had taken off, the pilots would’ve been forced to fly it manually because the plane’s computer would’ve received no data from the system, according to the Herald.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the incident: The pilots received an error alert when they powered the aircraft’s engines. The flight was aborted and the alleged tampering was subsequently found during an inspection, the Miami Herald reported.

“At American, we have an unwavering commitment to the safety and security of our customers and team members and we are taking this matter very seriously,” American Airlines said in a statement.

Alani was charged with willfully damaging, destroying or disabling an aircraft and, if convicted, could face up to two decades in prison, according to the Times.

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“Alani stated that his intention was not to cause harm to the aircraft or its passengers,” the criminal complaint said, via the Times. “Alani explained to law enforcement that he was upset at the stalled contract dispute between the union workers and American Airlines, and that this dispute had affected him financially. Alani claimed that he tampered with the target aircraft in order to cause a delay or have the flight canceled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work.”

American and the mechanic’s union have been sparring over contract negotiations since the American-US Airways merger in 2015. American even sued its mechanic unions in May, claiming they were engaging in an illegal slowdown of work.

Cover: This July 17, 2019 file photo shows American Airlines planes at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)