Man slips onto parked 737 jet
By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER -- A man slipped onto the ramp area of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport early Tuesday morning, boarded a 737 and sat down in the 10th row before a mechanic confronted him.
The mechanic was working on the wing of another plane about 2:45 a.m. when he saw the man climbing a set of stairs to the door of the empty American Trans Air 737.
Concerned that the man didn't appear to have an access badge, the mechanic followed him into the aircraft, then called 911 on his cell phone.
Pinellas sheriff's deputies responded, then took the man, 40-year-old Richard N. Moore, into custody on a trespassing charge. Deputies said Moore's last known address was an apartment in Tampa.
Airport officials, as well as the Transportation Security Administration, will investigate.
"Obviously, it's some kind of breach, and we're going to check that out," said Brian Doyle, a spokesman for the TSA, which was formed after Sept. 11, 2001, to oversee security at 429 airports nationwide.
Deputies will forward their reports to federal aviation officials for potential federal charges, said Detective Cal Dennie, a sheriff's office spokesman.
"My question is, 'How did he get that far?' " Dennie said.
Sheriff's officials said Moore told them he had no idea how he gained access to the airport. He appeared to be disoriented and told deputies he was taking the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. He also said he sometimes blacks out and walks in his sleep.
Moore admitted, however, that he saw signs forbidding trespassing in the area, and knew he wasn't allowed to be there, deputies said.
"Moore stated he wanted to take a plane ride," Deputy Jeff Capra wrote in an arrest affidavit.
Dennie said Moore's clothes were wet and dirty.
Tom Jewsbury, the airport's operations director, said officials don't know how he gained access to the airport.
"We're not sure if he jumped the barbed wire or what," Jewsbury said. "He didn't know where he was or how he got there. He said he wanted to work out details with an airline so he could fly out."
Jewsbury said a fence borders the airport except where it meets the waters of Old Tampa Bay. The fence does not jut into the water because that could impede water rescues. Jewsbury acknowledged someone probably could get around the fence. where it meets the water.
But he said the walk from that area to the ramp where the planes sit overnight is at least a mile. An immediate check of all the airport's gates and doors after Moore's arrest showed they were secured.
"I think this is very unusual," said Doyle, the TSA spokesman. "Security is a sieve. It's not perfect. Obviously, it's very odd that this . . . guy was able to wander in there somehow."
Sheriff's deputies summoned bomb-sniffing dogs to check the planes and surrounding area, but found no explosives. A background check on Moore showed nothing suspicious, including no previous arrest record in Florida.
ATA officials said the plane Moore boarded, which holds 175 passengers, probably left Tuesday morning for Chicago or Indianapolis.
Jewsbury said sheriff's officials and the airport's operations department check the facility's perimeter at night.
He said the entry of unauthorized people onto airport grounds is extremely unusual. The only previous case he could remember occurred years ago, and that person was caught before he got over the fence.
Officials praised the ATA mechanic, Miguel Santos, who saw Moore and confronted him. Officials said airline employees have been trained to be more vigilant after Sept. 11.
Santos, reached at his Tampa home Tuesday afternoon, referred questions to company officials, who had no comment.
"Good or bad, the system did work," said Doyle, the TSA spokesman. "A sharp-eyed employee saw him and challenged him.
"We try to create layers of security from the curbside to the cockpit," Doyle added. "As weird as this is, our security layers worked."
Security expert Doug Laird agreed, but wondered what would have happened if the mechanic had not seen the man.
"I think what it does is highlight that there are many vulnerabilities at airports," Laird said.
Jewsbury said airport officials were looking at upgrading the security fencing before this happened. He said officials also have been meeting with TSA officials to improve the airport's security.
Moore was released from the Pinellas County Jail on his own recognizance Tuesday. He could not be reached for comment.
-- Chris Tisch can be reached at (727) 445-4156 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
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