Dec. 8, 2005 -- The air marshal who shot and killed a passenger who made a bomb threat reacted as trained, says a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service.
"This was a textbook scenario and they acted instinctively, based on their training," Dave Adams said. He added that federal air marshals complete "one of the most robust training programs" and that they continue to train on a daily basis.
"They felt their lives were threatened, and they had to alleviate the threat," Adams said.
"He [Rigoberto Alpizar] was running down the aisle of the aircraft saying: 'I have a bomb in my bag,' " Adams said. "The federal air marshals pursued him and told him to stop, they were police. Stop, drop the bag, he didn't comply. He started to approach them with his hand in the bag. They told him to drop to the ground, drop the bag, and he refused."
"At that point, they felt their lives and others' lives were in jeopardy," he added.
To determine whether they should use lethal force, air marshals look for "opportunity, capability and intent," said Jamie Smith, an instructor and consultant to the Federal Air Marshal program, as well as chief executive officer of SCG International Risk, an international security firm.
"Opportunity would be the individual is close enough to the cockpit to do damage," Smith said. "Capability is that they have the weapon to do what they say they're going to do. The intent portion is that they manifest that intent: 'I have a bomb. I will take over the plane. This is a hijacking.' If those three things are there, that's a justified use of deadly force."
Air marshals always travel with at least one other marshal, Adams said. There were two air marshals on Alpizar's flight.
"Air marshals never travel alone," he said. "We will not give the exact numbers of federal air marshals, but on this flight, there were two federal air marshals."
They travel in numbers for "mutual support and for the unknown quantity," Smith said.
Usually air marshals sit in the front of the plane, according to Smith.
"They can sit anywhere in the aircraft that they choose, it is up to the air marshal, but it's the pilot they are trying to protect," Smith said.