American Airlines mechanic charged with sabotaging plane's navigation system

He's accused of damaging the plane just before it was scheduled to take off.

September 6, 2019, 11:46 AM

Authorities say an American Airlines mechanic based in Miami has been charged with allegedly sabotaging a plane's navigation system just before take off because he was upset over stalled union negotiations with the carrier.

"This is extremely serious and it is being handled by the authorities in that way. It is just the equivalent of trying to shoot an airplane out of the sky and murder everyone on board. And you can't take it as any less serious than that," said ABC News Contributor and aviation analyst John Nance.

"This is extremely shocking to me because it is a tremendous breach of faith against all the other mechanics who would never ever think of doing something like this. And we trust them all the time for good reason," Nance said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida on Thursday charged Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani with one count of willfully damaging, destroying and disabling an aircraft.

Alani has a court hearing Friday.

According to the criminal complaint, Alani allegedly drove an airline pickup truck to an aircraft slated to take off in just a few minutes to the Bahamas on the morning of July 17 at Miami International Airport. The plane had 150 passengers and crew on board, court documents say.

While still on the runway, the pilots were alerted something was wrong with the plane, aborted takeoff and returned back to the gate. It was then, court documents say, other American Airlines mechanics found the parts were disconnected and "appeared to have been deliberately obstructed with what appeared to be a dark Styrofoam-type material."

American Airlines security notified the FBI after reviewing security camera footage from the day, court documents say. Authorities say the footage shows Alani allegedly accessing the part of the aircraft where the tampered parts are located for seven minutes, and the complaint notes that there was no report of a previous mechanical issue or work order of the aircraft.

Court documents say that Alani's work isn't usually related to aircraft on the tarmac, but is usually limited to aircraft in hangars.

Three other people who were seen on the surveillance footage getting into the truck with Alani were interviewed by law enforcement and identified Alani, documents say.

PHOTO: Grounded American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 are seen parked at Miami International Airport in this March 14, 2019 file photo in Miami.
Grounded American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 are seen parked at Miami International Airport in this March 14, 2019 file photo in Miami.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images, FILE

When he was interviewed by law enforcement, court documents say, he admitted that he was driving the truck and allegedly tried to sabotage the aircraft, but said he didn't mean to cause any harm to those on board.

"He further admitted that he inserted a piece of foam into the ADM's (aircraft's) inlet where the connects and that he applied [Super Glue] to the foam so as to prevent the foam from coming off," court documents say.

Alani admitted to investigators that he was "upset" by the contract negotiations between American Airlines and its mechanics union and that it affected him financially, court documents say. The government also says that Alani claimed to have tampered with the aircraft in anticipation of obtaining overtime work.

"On July 17, flight 2834 from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, returned to the gate due to a maintenance issue. Passengers boarded a new aircraft which then re-departed for Nassau. At American we have an unwavering commitment to the safety and security of our customers and team members and we are taking this matter very seriously," American Airlines said in a statement to ABC News. "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. American immediately notified federal law enforcement who took over the investigation with our full cooperation."

“The Transport Workers Union is shocked by the reported allegations of airplane sabotage by an employee," John Samuelsen, the union's International president said in a statement. "If these allegations of sabotage are true, they are outrageous and indefensible, and we fully condemn such actions. Our mechanics are highly trained professionals who are dedicated to performing at the highest standards in the industry – and we will not tolerate anything less,” Samuelsen said.

The Transportation Security Administration and Miami International Airport had no comment on the charge.

ABC News' Mina Kaji contributed to this report.

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