Melbourne student pilot intended to steal plane to harm himself, FBI says

Officials say Nishal Sankat had no regard for if others were also harmed

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

MELBOURNE, Fla. - The college student who attempted to steal an American Airlines plane from the Melbourne International Airport told officials he planned to use the plane to harm himself, authorities said.

Melbourne police said Nishal Sankat, 22, left his car running at the terminal, climbed the security fence Thursday at 1:25 a.m. and boarded the nearly 200-passenger Airbus A321 aircraft.

During Sankat's first court appearance Friday, an FBI agent who worked on the case and interviewed Sankat said the suspect said he intended to harm himself and "had no regard" for if he harmed others.

An aviation technician was on the plane and stopped Sankat as he was attempting to get into the pilot's seat on the flight deck, airport spokeswoman Lori Booker said.

After being detained, Sankat was brought to a nearby hangar, where he briefly got away and was running back to the airplane when he was captured again by two STS Aviation Group mechanics and held until police arrived, authorities said. The whole incident was over in two minutes, Booker said.

Melbourne Police Chief David Gillespie said as of Thursday night, no direct connection to terrorism had been found. Sankat was unarmed and has no prior criminal convictions.

Earlier on Thursday, News 6 partner Florida Today reported that FBI agents and two white Melbourne Police CSI vans were stationed alongside a row of garages on within the Cypress Springs neighborhood. Sankat's address is listed inside the townhouse complex off Eber Boulevard.

"There were no explosive devices and no weapons that were confiscated from his residence,” Gillespie said.

Investigators with Melbourne police, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force are still reviewing evidence collected from Sankat's home.

"We’re all pretty puzzled by the motivation," Booker said. "We don’t have those answered right now."

Sankat is a part-time Florida Institute of Technology aviation student, according to the university. He has a Florida's driver's license, is from Trinidad and Tobago and entered the United States through Canada, officials said. Here's what else we know about the suspect..

Friends of the 22-year-old were shocked to hear what he is accused of and told News 6 the student is an avid aviation aficionado whose love of planes is well-known.

"Nishal is not that type of person," said Aaron Ambrose, who went to school with Sankat in Trinidad and Tobago. "He's like a comical kid, but he was always really smart because he was, like, obsessed with planes."

Sankat is charged with violation of a visa, criminal trespassing and criminal theft of an aircraft.

Copyright 2018 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.