Sky Sniper’s Bizarre Flight Reminds Airport Operators Of Vulnerability
BOSTON (AP) _ The bizarre flight of an enraged ex-husband who commandeered a Cessna and flew among city buildings while firing randomly at the ground below reminded operators of small airports of their vulnerablility.
″What can you do to prevent someone from going in and terrorizing people?″ asked John Leyden, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.
″You just have to play the odds,″ said Greg Chapman, manager of the Beverly municipal airport where the gunman hijacked the small plane. ″You go along for years and years and nothing happens. Then all of a sudden everything goes haywire.″
Alfred J. Hunter, who also is accused of murdering his ex-wife, was arraigned Wednesday in Salem District Court on charges of murder and armed robbery. Judge John Doyle ordered Hunter held without bail for 20 days of psychiatric observation at Bridgwater State Hospital.
The sniper flight early Wednesday struck a chord among airport officials struggling with security.
The rampage began with the hijacking of the single-engine plane at Beverly, about 20 miles north of Boston. The episode ended three hours later at Logan International Airport, one of the nation’s largest facilities.
At both facilities, the hijacker had officials backed into a corner.
In Beverly, flight instructor Robert Golder was alone and had little choice but to comply with Hunter’s demand for a plane.
″When you have an AK-47 (assault rifle) stuck up your nose and someone ask you to provide an airplane, you just ask them what color airplane they’d like,″ Amero said. ″It’s wise to back off.″
And during the flight, Hunter buzzed Logan and sent air traffic controllers scrambling from the tower, closing the airport.
″Something like this was impossible to anticipate in terms of security,″ said Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for Logan. ″And I’m not sure there’s a defense for it anyway. The whole city was helpless.″
Hunter’s flight ended about 1:15 a.m. Wednesday when he landed at Logan with about five minutes’ worth of fuel left in his tank. He had no comment, and authorities found no weapon in the plane although several rounds and spent shell casings were recovered.
Leyden said that ideally, stringent security measures would be mandated at all of the nation’s 15,000 small airports and landing strips.
″But it would be impossible,″ he said. ″You really can’t prepare for events like these. I don’t know what you could do in the way of security without imposing a tremendous economic burden on small airport operators.″
Ralph Amero, who manages the Beverly Flight Center, whose plane Hunter commandeered, agreed.
″At airports such as Beverly there really is no security,″ he said. ″Generally speaking all we can do is band together as a group of fixed base operators and try to hire security, but the cost is prohibitive.″
Bill Thomas, a senior claims representative at AVEMCO Insurance Corp. said the Frederick, Md.-based small aircraft insurer, one of the nation’s largest, receives eight to 10 theft reports annually.
Because a single-engine plane like a Cessna 210 is valued at about $196,000, costs can quickly soar for insurers like AVEMCO, which spends about $1 million annually in compensation for stolen and damaged aircraft.
″The Boston incident was certainly an exception,″ he said. ″Naturally, we like to see solid security using the best surveillance technology.″