The woman who allegedly attempted Wednesday to steal a corporate jet from the St. Louis Downtown Airport has been committed to the psychiatric ward at Touchette Regional Hospital.
The results of her examination will determine if she’s charged in relation to what Sauget Police Chief Patrick Delaney said was a bizarre attempt to sneak onto the airfield and steal a plane for what appeared to be a short vacation.
“At the scene she told officers that she wanted to fly to China,” Delaney said. “But later she changed her story and said she wanted to go to New York.”
Representatives from the Transportation Safety Administration, FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney’s office interviewed her Wednesday morning looking for terrorist ties and motivation.
But Delaney said any sinister motives have been ruled out, and he doesn’t expect federal charges against the woman, whose name has not been released because she has not been charged with a crime.
Police said only that she is 38 and from downtown St. Louis.
The woman talked her way past a security guard at the airport at 4:21 a.m. Wednesday. She parked her car then walked with her luggage across the tarmac to a 20-seat Global Express jet, owned by a bank in Hong Kong. Once inside, she headed into the cockpit of the plane parked in front of Hangar 22 at Jet Aviation.
“She was hitting buttons and toggle switches trying to get it started,” Delaney said. “The plane was being renovated. So, fortunately, it was disabled, and she couldn’t get it running. Perish the thought if she were able to start it and get the plane moving.”
Police said the woman had no experience flying a plane. But she is an aviation enthusiast who has apparently read many articles about aircraft.
“It’s scary because, had the plane not been disabled, I think she knew enough to get it started,” Delaney said. “From talking to her, it’s obvious she knows a lot about planes. A lot more than I do.”
Delaney said it seems at this point that the woman arrived about the time of a shift change and that she passed herself off as an employee of Jet Aviation, the business where the plane she allegedly tried to take was parked.
The woman was spotted on surveillance cameras and airport security called for help. Police, in turn, called the local fire department to the airport for a “special assignment” — the nature of which was not disclosed over emergency responders’ radios.
Police rushed the plane and the woman surrendered. Delaney said she was very polite and cooperative as she gave herself up, apparently uncertain what all the fuss was about. He suspects she may have a mental health issue and that she didn’t know the gravity of her actions.
The woman has no previous criminal history.
The Sauget Fire Department as well as the St. Clair County Hazardous Materials Response Team and a bomb-sniffing dog were brought in to make sure the suspect didn’t have any weapons, explosives or poisonous chemicals.
Delaney said the plane and her bags were determined not to contain anything dangerous.
“They had clothes and papers in them, that sort of thing,” Delaney said. “It appeared as if she was getting ready to go on a two or three-day vacation.”
It did not appear the suspect had all her belongings with her as if she planned to flee the area and not come back.
Police are working with the airport to make sure a similar security breach can’t happen again.
“This is the first time we have had any sort of security issue like this at the airport,” Delaney said. “Their security is very good. I don’t know how this could have happened. But I don’t see it happening in the future. They are taking this very seriously.”
According to police, more than 1,000 people work at the airport which is busy 24 hours a day.
The Global Express is manufactured by Canandian-based Bombardier Aerospace. It is nearly 97 feet long with a 94-foot wingspan and has a top speed just below 600 mph, or mach .89. It can carry 39,250 pounds of fuel and has a 5,200-mile range.
Jet Aviation is a company that maintains and outfits jet aircraft for manufacturers and both private and corporate owners of planes. They have locations throughout the world in America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific.