Search of Sankat’s home in Florida …”NO LINKS TO TERRORISM”

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The 22-year-old Trinidadian student who documented his love of aircraft on his Facebook page, has been charged with trying to steal an American Airlines plane in Orlando, Florida.

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.

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.

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, 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,  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.

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.

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.

According to reports, Sankat intended to steal the passenger aircraft to harm himself.

This was the shocking allegation made by FBI agents when Sankat appeared in the Brevard County Court on Friday afternoon, charged with three offences arising out of his alleged attempt to steal a passenger plane at the Melbourne International Airport, in Orlando, Florida, on Thursday morning.
At the end of the hearing, Sankat, 22, was ordered held without bond.

Sankat had no lawyer. A public defender was appointed.

Sankat, shackled hands and feet and wearing a bullet proof cloak, appeared to have difficulty in answering questions and filling out a form that asked basic questions, even after his case was stood down for him to complete the task.

In an exchange with the judge, Sankat was asked if he worked.

“No, I am a student,” he said.

Sankat said he did not own a home in Florida, but his parents did.

But Sankat also told the court that he tried contacting his parents while in jail but was unsuccessful.

Two FBI agents were called to give testimony in hearing before the judge ruled on whether there was “probable cause” – reasonable grounds to believe that a particular person has committed a crime, especially to justify making a search or preferring a charge.

One agent said he responded to a “possible terrorist incident” and interviewed Sankat.

“He said he intended to harm him himself…and in that process he had no regard for the eventuality of harming others in the process,” said the agent.

The court was told that Sankat was spotted on Thursday morning after he entered the American Airlines Airbus on the airport tarmac.

The agent said that the aircraft was under maintenance at the time but capable of taking off.

A second agent said that when Sankat entered the aircraft, he was confronted by a member of the maintenance staff who did not see a badge.

As a result, Sankat was escorted off the aircraft and taken to a hangar when he was further questioned.

The judge asked for more information about Sankat’s alleged intention for getting onto the aircraft.

An agent told the court that he asked Sankat, who said it was in an attempt to harm himself, and that he would take the aircraft to harm himself.

The court was told that Sankat, who did not work, received a US$5000 a month stipend from his parents to attend school, and shared a bank account with them.

Sankat was asked if he wanted to question the agents. He said no.

Sankat was told that he was to have no contact with Melbourne Airport personnel or visit the airport in future.

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NISHAL SANKAT 

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