msnbc.com
updated 2/6/2004 10:44:46 AM ET 2004-02-06T15:44:46

A brazen interloper apparently seeking a free flight strolled unnoticed past two security checkpoints and walked onto a jumbo jet without a ticket last month at Los Angeles International Airport, which at the time was at a heightened state of alert for terrorist attack, it was reported Friday.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told the Los Angeles Times that there was no indication that Kareem Thomas, a 19-year-old resident of Decatur, Ga., on probation for burglary, was a terrorist or posed a threat to the Delta flight’s passengers and crew.

According to the Times’ account, Thomas, wearing a sweatshirt, sunglasses and gloves, passed through the airport’s metal detectors on Jan. 15 before taking his unauthorized stroll and boarding Delta Flight 1972 to Atlanta. In allowing the man to reach the aircraft, Delta Airlines failed to ask Thomas for his ticket or identification at two security checkpoints, it said.

Thomas was discovered hiding in a restroom aboard the aircraft by passengers and arrested by police before the plane took off, the newspaper said. He was subsequently charged with suspicion of burglary for boarding an aircraft without a ticket, but that charge was later dropped and he was instead referred to court for violating the terms of his parole, it said. He faces up to three years in state prison.

But passenger John Hall of Santa Monica told the Times that the aircraft was not searched before takeoff.

"What shocked everyone on board was, we flew off without a thorough search of the plane," Hall said. "They just checked the toilet."

The FBI and federal Transportation and Security Administration are investigating the incident, the newspaper said.

Larry Fetters, a TSA spokesman, told Times that the agency could levee a fine or send a letter of warning to Delta if it determined that federal aviation regulations were violated.

Delta Airlines also told the Times that it was conducting its own investigation and might change some security procedures, although it offered no specifics.

Brian Sullivan, a retired Federal Aviation Administration security agent, told the Times that the incident should serve as a cautionary tale for travelers and security professionals.

"It's the person that's a problem, not the pointy object," he said. "How many weapons are there on an aircraft? You get me on an aircraft with an evil intent and if there's a woman with a baby on that aircraft, I can take over the plane."

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