Mass. police take gun from JetBlue pilot
Pilot threatened self-harm; Air crews deputized in post-9/11 program
By Glen Johnson
BOSTON — Massachusetts State Police said Friday they took a gun off a JetBlue pilot at Logan International Airport after he allegedly told an acquaintance he might harm himself.
The pilot was not charged with illegal possession of a firearm, and the gun was taken by federal authorities, suggesting he might be a member of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program.
The post-9/11 program screens, trains, arms and deputizes pilots as a last line of aircraft security. There are reportedly 10,000 pilots carrying handguns under the program.
The conflict occurred Thursday, and the pilot was immediately taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for evaluation. The airline refused to identify him and issued a statement saying he was removed from duty "for health-related reasons."
JetBlue also said no passengers were harmed, nor was any flight in jeopardy. It did not immediately respond to questions about whether the pilot had already flown Thursday or was about to fly.
"We continue to work closely with Boston authorities to ensure our crew member receives appropriate medical attention," said spokesman Bryan Baldwin.
State Police spokesman David Procopio told The Associated Press a federal air marshal alerted troopers about 1:45 p.m., after the acquaintance reported the pilot sent a communication — either a text message or e-mail — "that suggested a possible inclination by that person to harm himself." He could not say whether the pilot threatened to misuse the gun itself.
Procopio said three troopers, quickly backed up by four more, confronted the pilot at a crew lounge. The pilot volunteered to undergo a medical evaluation and was taken away by ambulance.
"The subject was in possession of a firearm, which has been seized. The investigation is ongoing," Procopio said.
Asked whether the pilot was a member of the Flight Deck Officer program, Procopio said: "He was not charged with firearm possession." He also said federal authorities took possession of the gun.
The Transportation Security Administration refused to confirm whether the pilot was a member of the program, citing security concerns.
"We have an investigation ongoing, and when that is finished, we will release more details," said TSA spokesman Nelson Minerly.
The Flight Deck Officer program is run by the Federal Air Marshal Service, which itself puts armed agents on select airline flights.
The program was instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in which hijackers armed with box cutters seized control of four airliner cockpits. They crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as one into a Pennsylvania field as hijackers apparently tried to reach Washington.
Under the program, flight crew members are deputized as federal law enforcement officers. They are allowed to use a gun to defend against a crime or potential hijacking.
Initially limited to commercial flight pilots, flight engineers or navigators, the program was later expanded to include cargo pilots and certain other crew members. The participants do not receive additional compensation for carrying a weapon.
The only prior high-profile incident involving the program occurred in March 2008, when a gun carried by a US Airways pilot accidentally discharged during a flight from Denver to Charlotte. The bullet went through the floor of the cockpit and pierced the aircraft's skin, but the flight landed safely and no passengers were hurt.
The pilot later said the gun discharged as he was stowing it. The Department of Homeland Security subsequently complained about the holsters used to carry the .40-caliber guns issued under the program.
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