An agitated Florida aircraft mechanic is accused of disabling the navigation system on an American Airlines flight in July in order to secure overtime work amid crumbling union contract negotiations.
Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani was arrested on Thursday for allegedly tampering with flight No. 2834, which was scheduled to depart from Miami International Airport en route to Nassau, Bahamas on July 17.
He’s been charged with “willfully damaging, destroying or disabling an aircraft,” according to a criminal complaint obtained by the Miami Herald. The complaint alleged that the longtime employee was irked by soured union contract talks, which he claimed had hurt his family financially.
The plane, which was carrying 150 passengers, never took off due to the maintenance issue. Pilots in the cockpit observed an error alert as the engines fired up while the plane was sitting on the runway.
“On July 17, flight 2834 from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, returned to the gate due to a maintenance issue,” American Airlines told Oxygen.com in a statement.
Passengers and crew boarded a new aircraft, a spokesperson for the company said. When the original plane was taken to a maintenance hangar for an inspection, mechanics there discovered that tubes leading to the navigation system had been blocked with some type of foam material.
“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 company added, noting the airline was cooperating with federal investigators.
A spokesperson for the airline declined to comment on the incident further.
Authorities say Alani used a foam adhesive to obstruct a tube on the nose of the aircraft — and underneath the cockpit — that connected to the navigation system, known as an air data module.
Alani allegedly spent about seven minutes carrying out the sabotage, which authorities say was caught by security cameras. The footage shows Alani, who walks with a limp, hopping out of a truck at Miami International Airport’s Concourse D. He then proceeds to the aircraft, which had reportedly just arrived from Orlando, and appears to tinker with a panel that contained the navigation system, authorities said.
The man, who has worked at American Airlines since 1988, allegedly told federal air marshals that he disrupted the navigation system “to cause delay or have the flight canceled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work.”
Investigators say Alani, one of 12,000 American Airline union mechanics, told them he hadn’t intended to hurt anyone and was only “upset” over the progress of contract negotiations between American Airlines and the mechanics union, which he claimed had “affected him financially.”
The 60-year-old mechanic is expected to be arraigned in Miami federal court on Friday, the Herald reported. It’s unclear if he has retained legal counsel.
A spokesperson for the Southern District of Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office, was unavailable to comment on Friday.
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