75ºF

Who is the Florida Tech student accused of the Melbourne jet breach?

Suspect ID'd as 22-year-old Nishal Sankat

MELBOURNE, Fla. – A man accused of jumping a fence and boarding a plane Thursday has been charged with attempting to steal the aircraft, according to airport officials. 

Law enforcement officials said the suspect, identified as 22-year-old Nishal Sankat, boarded an American Airlines jet that was parked in a maintenance terminal at the Orlando Melbourne International Airport. 

An FBI agent who worked on the case said Sankat told agents he tried to steal the plane with the intention to hurt himself. The same agent said Sankat had no regard for if other people were also hurt. The exact details of what Sankat was planning to do with the plane are unclear.

Booker said Sankat, a Florida Institute of Technology student, was charged with criminal attempt to steal an airplane, criminal trespassing and a visa violation. The Florida Tech aviation school is located at the airport where the incident occurred.

Booking photo of Nishal Sankat (photo courtesy of the Brevard County Sheriff's Office)
Booking photo of Nishal Sankat (photo courtesy of the Brevard County Sheriff's Office)

Florida Tech officials said Sankat is from the nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Booker said Sankat has a Florida driver's license and came to the U.S. through Canada.

School officials said Sankat is studying aviation management part time and has completed some flight training. 

Airport spokeswoman Lori Booker said Sankat made it into the plane's cockpit, but was detained before he was able to start the engine. Booker said the Sankat "attempted to breach the flight deck" twice, breaking away once after having been detained by aviation mechanics, who later caught him again. 

The mechanics initially became suspicious of Sankat when he was unable to present an official airport badge.

"My understanding is [the mechanic] saw a shadow behind him, turned and challenged the badge and was not satisfied with the response," Booker said.

Authorities do not believe Sankat has any ties to terrorism. He was unarmed at the time of the incident.

According to Florida Tech's website, the model of plane is very similar to one of the models that Florida Tech pilot students train on, the Airbus 320.

Sankat is currently being held at the Brevard County Jail and is being interrogated by authorities, Booker said.