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American Airlines mechanic arrested for tampering with Bahamas-bound plane carrying 150 people


An American Airlines mechanic is accused of sabotaging a flight over stalled union contract negotiations. (Rick Gershon / Getty Images)

A mechanic was arrested and charged with sabotage after he tampered with a commercial plane’s hardware shortly before it was set to take off from Miami International Airport with more than 100 people on board.

The American Airlines flight, destined for Nassau in the Bahamas, did not depart as scheduled on July 17 and was eventually canceled when crews noticed an error related to the “air data module,” which tracks speed, nose direction and other critical flight information, according to court documents.

Mechanics inspecting the plane “discovered a loosely connected pilot tube, which connects directly to the ADM” and concluded that it “appeared to have been deliberately obstructed with what appeared to be a dark Styrofoam-type material.”

American Airlines said the flight was returned to the gate for maintenance and that all passengers were put on a different plane. No one was hurt in the incident.

Authorities used surveillance video to identify Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani as the saboteur. In an interview with investigators on Thursday, he confessed to tampering with the plane’s critical hardware but denied he intended to hurt anyone on board.

According to the criminal complaint, Alani glued the foam inside a tube leading outside the plane and to the air data module.

Alani told officers that stalled contract negotiations between American Airlines and the mechanic’s union “affected him financially” – so he sabotaged the plane “to cause a delay or have the flight canceled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work,” according to the affidavit written by Jose A. Ruiz, a federal air marshal who serves on an FBI terrorism task force.

The 22,000-member mechanic’s union has been trying to obtain a new contract with American for more than three years, and the groups announced this week they would resume negotiations on September 16 with the help of a mediator. The airline has accused the mechanics of an illegal work slow down resulting in hundreds of canceled and delayed flights, according to the Miami Herald.

American Airlines in a statement to CNN said it immediately notified authorities upon learning of the incident and that it is cooperating in the investigation.

“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,” it reads.

“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 returned to service.”

Alani was charged with “willfully damaging, destroying, disabling, or wrecking an aircraft, and attempting to do so,” according to the criminal complaint. He is slated to make a court appearance in Miami Friday afternoon.

With News Wire Services