Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Pilot with embellished story flying armed? Who knows.
In an earlier blog posting, I wondered what new revelations might emerge about American Eagle pilot Timothy Martins, the cover boy who may have embellished his life story in a profile about him in the Air Line Pilots Association magazine's April edition.
You may recall that in the story, written by technical editor Jan Steenblik, and pulled off the digital newsstand within days of its publication, Martins was said to have been a paramedic, New York city fire fighter, Air National Guard fighter pilot, and graduate of Dowling College School of Aviation.
Officials with each of these organizations deny that Martins fought their fires, flew their planes or graduated from their school. The denials, while interesting don't explain how these fictions wound up in print. I'm getting nowhere with ALPA. Spokeswoman Linda Shotwell tells me no one at the union has anything to say about the matter.
But back to Martins, two commenters on my blog claim that the young man is a Federal Flight Deck Officer, meaning he has undergone a federal background check and is authorized to carry a firearm onto the airplane.
Could that be true?
I can't say, though that's the kind of tidbit worth checking out, so I got right on it. A call to the Transportation Security Administration gets this response from spokesman Nelson Minerly. "The identities of FFDO's are confidential. That's a matter of policy."
Flight deck officers I'm told, are not supposed to identify themselves as such publicly. But what does that really mean?
Even Minerly admits when the person sitting next to you in the cockpit pulls a gun from a lockbox and straps it onto their belt, FFDO status is no longer secret. A number of airline pilots tell me flight attendants are also informed when one of the pilots is packing. And how seriously does the TSA really take this secrecy if the agency is providing special bags to move the weapon through the airplane and the airport. "Those fancy satchels are easy to spot" a former pilot told me this afternoon. If all these folks are in the know, just how hush-hush can this information really be?
OK, so I have no idea if my blog commenters know first hand that Martins is flying armed or if its just coming through the rumor mill. Or if this detail is as fictionalized as the profile of Martins that got this ball rolling. Until I get something more substantial, there's not much more I can do with this nub of a story.
But here's one point worth considering.
In April 1994, Fed Ex flight engineer Auburn Calloway who believed he was about to be fired for lying about his fight record, was deadheading on a company DC-10 when, shortly after takeoff he took a hammer out of a guitar case and tried to clobber to death the three men at the controls.
Air safety consultant and former NTSB board member Dick Healing reminded me of the episode, which was turned into a National Geographic TV documentary, in a phone conversation last week. This is the event that leapt into Healing's mind as we talked about the strange case of Timothy Martins.
"When people lie in order to get some level of credit, they are not trustworthy and really should not be in the cockpit," Healing told me.
It strikes me nothing more than silly that the TSA should make such a fuss over keeping the names of FFDOs secret, when opportunities abound for finding out just who is in the program. But regardless of whether I find out if Martins is flying while armed, I certainly hope that the Transportation Security Administration and American Eagle get the story nailed down and quickly.