Last Wednesday, as a new member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Massachusetts freshman Congressman William R. Keating had the opportunity to ask Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about airport security in the wake of both a tragic accident and serious security breach that killed a teenager on November 15, 2010.
In a hearing on Capitol Hill, Napolitano addressed the death of Delvonte Tisdale, who fell thousands of feet from an airplane as it descended near Boston’s Logan Airport.
Speaking publically about the tragic event for the first time, Secretary Napolitano told the panel that clearly security failed if somebody, “if a 16-year-old is able to circumvent standards and requirements and get into the wheel well of a plane, there has been a breakdown.”
As the Norfolk District Attorney, Keating investigated Delvonte Tisdale’s death. Keating told Napolitano that investigators said Tisdale didn’t show up in any airport security video. He said the teen’s death points to a gaping hole in security.
U.S. Rep. William Keating asked Secretary Napolitano what might have happened if Tisdale had been “a person with more nefarious motivations.”
During a press conference held last December to announce the investigation’s findings, Keating told reporters that on November 15, 2010 a high school student from North Carolina, Delvonte Tisdale, managed to sneak onto a flight that originated in Chalotte, N.C. and then fell out of the commercial airliner just miles before it landed at Boston’s Logan Airport.
Investigators in the Tisdale case said it seemed “far fetched” that someone could breach Charlotte/Douglas Airport Security to hide inside of the left wheel of a 737 Boeing aircraft.
Officials initially though the teen was beaten to death, but could not explain how the high school student ended up 900 miles from home so quickly.
As evidence that pointed to the “unthinkable” mounted, investigators were finally able to “connect the dots.”
Tisdale was last seen in Charlotte, N.C. less than 24 hours before his body was discovered. Clothing items matching the description of what the teen was last seen wearing were found along a stretch located under the path of the airplane.
In addition, Tisdale’s fingerprints were found inside of the left wheel, an area that airport employees call “a place you don’t usually find fingerprints.”
As Norfolk D.A., Keating called the grim discovery a tragic ending of a young man’s life, and said the incident raised “enormous concerns about aviation safety.”
Keating, perhaps thinking out loud, asked, “How could a teenager board a commercial airliner without being detected?”
Following Wednesday’s heaing, Rep. Keating told a reporter that he was concerned that Homeland Security officials have not announced any corrective actions at the airport yet.
Keating said it was good that Secretary Napolitano acknowledged the incident as a security breakdown.
However, Rep. Keating was hoping to learn that new measures were in place to prevent similiar incidents. Napolitano promised Keating the results of any review of the incident.
National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter said security officials have serious concerns about tarmac access. Michael E. Leiter vowed to work with Napolitano to address any issues about perimeter security at airports.