An aircraft mechanic has been charged with tampering with an American Airlines airplane before a flight of 150 passengers was scheduled to take off.
The Miami Herald reports that American Airline employee Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani was arrested on Thursday for allegedly disabling a navigation system.
A criminal complaint affidavit filed in federal court—cited by Miami Herald and Associated Press—states that Alani admitted in an interview he intentionally damaged the system in an effort to collect overtime payment, as he had been struggling financially due to stalled contract negotiations between the mechanics’ unions and American Airlines.
The complaint reportedly states that on July 17 pilots received an error alert as flight 2834 was preparing to take off from Miami International Airport, and the flight was cancelled. During routine maintenance following the incident, a mechanic discovered a tube under the cockpit had been blocked with hard foam. According to the complaint, Alani used the foam material to block a tube that leads from outside of the aircraft to the air data module that tracks speed and other data. The Miami Herald noted that if the airplane had taken off, the system would not have received any data and pilots would have been forced to fly the airplane manually.
American Airlines said in a statement shared with Gizmodo that after flight flight 2834 returned to the gate, passengers boarded a different flight for Nassau, Bahamas. “At the time of the incident, the aircraft was taken out of service, maintenance was performed and after an inspection to ensure it was safe the aircraft was returned to service,” the American Airlines statement read. “American immediately notified federal law enforcement who took over the investigation with our full cooperation.”
Air marshals reportedly reviewed surveillance footage that showed someone, who allegedly resembled Alani and had his same limp, exit a vehicle, approach the aircraft, and access a portion of the airplane that holds the navigation system.
According to the affidavit, cited by Miami Herald, Alani told the marshals “his intention was not to cause harm to the aircraft or its passengers,” and he tampered with the system “in order to cause a delay or have the flight canceled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work.”
A spokesperson for the US Attorney’s office in the Southern District of Florida told CNN that Alani is expected to make his first court appearance on Friday.