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12:20 AM Wed, Nov. 14th

Organic Matter: No easy answer in arming pilots, crew

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera commitment to improve education has taken on a new aspect.

Last week, he became co-chairman of the Governor's Drug and Gang Policy Council.

He co-chaired his first meeting Wednesday.

A rural community like Kingman does not have the sheer numbers of drug abusers or gang members that are found in the state's metropolitan areas.

But we are not exempt from those problems.

Molera has said he looks forward to working with Gov.

Jane Dee Hull and community leaders throughout the state in addressing ongoing drug and gang problems.

How that help may affect Kingman or Mohave County is something only time will tell.

"It is important that we reach out to our youth to make sure they understand the importance of the choices they face and the importance of choosing the right path," Molera said.

"I will continue working on behalf of our K-12 schools to ensure that our expectations of our children are high.

This issue is about more than academic standards, it is about setting the highest standards for our children's character."

Well stated.

* * *

While I have not taken a commercial flight in quite a few years, it is good to know that improvements made to reinforce the doors of flight decks since the terrorist attacks of Sept.

11 seem to be working.

An incident last Thursday aboard United Airlines Flight 855 bound from Miami to Buenos Aires provides some early evidence of improved security measures aboard jets.

Pablo Moreira, a 28-year-old banker from Uruguay, left his seat and went to the cockpit door about five hours into the eight-hour flight.

The jet was flying over Brazil with 142 passengers and 15 crewmembers as Moreira allegedly began kicking at the door of the Boeing 777.

While the cockpit doors of all United and American Airlines planes have been reinforced with metal bars since events of Sept.

11, Moreira managed to kick in a small breakaway panel across the bottom of the door and stick his head inside, demanding to speak with the pilot.

Bedlam erupted among the passengers with many rushing forward to try to restrain Moreira.

For several minutes there was scuffling and blood spattered about the cabin as punches were thrown.

One of the pilots grabbed a small ax and struck Moreira over the head.

At that point, he was subdued, taken back to his seat and tied him into it for the duration of the flight.

He was given on board medical attention

Argentine police took Moreira into custody after the plane landed safely in Buenos Aires.

The authorities there said Moreira was not armed and did not appear intoxicated.

They added Moreira has no recollection of what happened.

Moreira returned to the United States in handcuffs aboard another commercial flight Friday and was handed over to the FBI, which is investigating the incident.

The incident has sparked further debate on whether flight crewmembers should have access to weapons, whether they are stun guns or something more lethal.

The problem with arming the pilots is what happens if one of them "flips out" and uses the weapon on his colleague in the cockpit?

Or suppose one of the pilots is sympathetic to the al-Qaida or other terrorist elements or is himself a cell member?

No screening procedure, whether to check boarding passengers for weapons or determine the character of flight crewmembers before hiring them, is totally foolproof.

Placing sky marshals on flights is expensive and leaves a key question to be answered about them.

What happens if one of them is physically overpowered by one or more hijackers, who came aboard with box cutters and now have a firearm?

There is no simple answer.

I'm afraid we now live in a new age where passengers must be ready to respond to a threat by banding together to gang tackle and subdue hijackers.

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.