Airport security an issue after gunman walks into plane cockpit

NEW YORK - Security officials at John F. Kennedy Airport had to explain Friday how an armed man got past a checkpoint and onto a plane, where he put a gun to a pilot's head and began a five-hour standoff.

Brandishing a gun, the 22-year-old man went around a metal detector, ran the past the security check in front of the plane's gate Thursday night and boarded a National Airlines Boeing 757 about to leave for Las Vegas, police said.

He pointed a gun at the pilot's head and asked to be flown to Miami, Argentina or Antarctica, witnesses and authorities said. There were 143 passengers and crew on the plane; they were able to leave unhurt before the gunman was arrested.

The incident raised questions about whether one of the world's busiest airports has sufficient security checks in place.

''No, there was not a security lapse. But do you want to get into a gun battle in a crowded terminal?'' said Alan Hicks, a spokesman for the Port Authority, which runs the airport. ''The situation was contained, handled without anyone hurt.''

A guard pushed an emergency button, summoning airport police officers who arrived ''within a minute or two,'' Hicks said, but the gunman ''was already on the jet by the time police got there.''

Looking dazed, the suspect, Aaron Commey, made a brief appearance Friday in federal court, where he was ordered held without bail on charges of attempted aircraft piracy, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. Prosecutor Seth Levine called the crime ''brazen and calculated.''

A criminal complaint filed in the case said that shortly after his arrest, Commey ''admitted that he had been planning to take over an airplane for several months and he would have used a handgun and knife that he was carrying against anyone who resisted.''

Outside court, Commey's attorney, Michael Schneider, said that after talking to his client for more than an hour, ''I have questions about his competency. ... It seems to be a very sad case.''

The suspect's father, Samuel Commey, said his son likely has mental problems. He said he has not seen him in nearly four years, only speaking to him by phone in the last year.

Aaron Commey ''wasn't responding to the help that I was giving him, just to finish school,'' the father said. ''There might be something wrong with him mentally.''

Authorities don't believe the suspect, who grew up in New York but has been living in Milwaukee, has a criminal record.

Passenger Frank Clark said the gunman ''walked right through first class at a high rate of speed toward the cockpit. People in the aisle across from me, they said, 'He's got a gun,' that's when all hell broke loose and basically they beat feet and I beat feet.''

The gunman later ordered the crew to clear the plane of all remaining passengers as well as the seven crew members. Some left through the gangway, while others slid down an emergency chute at the rear.

Negotiators from the FBI and the Port Authority police finally coaxed the gunman off the empty plane early Friday morning.


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