0

Plane theft unbelievable in terror age

The arrest this week of a 22-year-old Buford man on charges he stole a $7 million charter jet has us scratching our heads.

We're not only baffled that Daniel Wolcott allegedly took a "joy ride" on the 10-passenger jet; we're also astounded he could find five people to take the ride with him.

What we find most disturbing, though, is that the trip was even possible.

We're living in a post-Sept. 11 era where millions of taxpayer dollars have been invested to thwart attempts to commandeer a plane. Any time there's an incident - from a blackout to a plane crash - the question of terrorist involvement is immediately asked. This incident was no different.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Chris White told a Post reporter this week: "At this time, TSA does not see a significant credible risk to national security in general aviation."

We live in a county where two of the men who hijacked planes that eventually took down the World Trade Center attended flight school. We didn't see that coming, either.

We were pleased Friday when the airport authority at Gwinnett County Airport-Briscoe Field announced it had formed a committee to make recommendations about security upgrades in light of the Wolcott incident. We'd feel better if their national counterparts would take the case more seriously.

Wolcott, who does boast a commercial-rated pilot's license, was allegedly able to go undetected, five friends in tow, on board a $7 million charter jet and land it at Briscoe Field. The plane was at the St. Augustine Airport as late as midnight Oct. 8 but was gone by 5 a.m. that morning. Police believe it landed in Lawrenceville in the early hours of Oct. 9. Yet it was after noon Oct. 10 that something askew was noticed.

It boggles us that you can't take a pair of tweezers on board a Delta flight when you head home to visit family, but a 22-year-old can take a plane and go undetected, both on land and in air.

This incident begs the question: How safe are our skies?

In 2004, a North Carolina college student who hid box cutters - the Sept. 11 terrorists' weapon of choice - razor blades, bleach and matches on airplanes to expose weaknesses in airline security was sentenced to probation, community service and fined $500.

Nathaniel Heatwole, 21, told the judge he was trying to assist the TSA in the agency's efforts to secure the nation's airlines.

Federal prosecutors initially charged Heatwole with a felony. The charge was reduced later to a misdemeanor. In addition to probation et al, Heatwole promised to provide future assistance to federal authorities curious as to how he averted safeguards.

We don't pretend to know how Wolcott's attorney plans to defend his client. But we hope those responsible for keeping the skies clear learn a lesson from his flight.