SELINSGROVE — State police say four young men who broke into a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic navigation tower in Snyder County on Sunday morning and shut down an aviation aid weren’t trying to disrupt air traffic.
“I didn’t see any attempt to bring a plane out of the sky,” trooper Brent Bobb responded when District Judge John H. Reed asked him Monday whether the incident was reckless or intentional.
The four men each charged with felony causing a catastrophe, burglary, criminal mischief, criminal trespass and summary underage drinking are Michael J. Ede, 20, and Kevin C. Herman, 19, both of Winfield, and Brett H. Eyster, 20, and Alex T. Moyer, 20, both of Selinsgrove.
According to the criminal complaint, they told police they were “exploring” at 1:30 a.m. Sunday when they entered the FAA navigation tower off Air Tower Road in Penn Township through an unlocked door. It triggered an intruder alarm that shut down the Very High Frequency Omni Directional Range signal that is “crucial for aircraft flying” since it enables pilots to follow an assigned flight path.
An alarm was sent to the FAA in Georgia, and state police at Selinsgrove responded. At the scene, according to court records, the four were spotted walking away from the tower carrying an open container of beer.
The tower is in a cornfield on a hill surrounded by a fence. There are several “no trespassing” and other signs indicating any person who interferes with air traffic control will be prosecuted under federal law. One highly visible sign on a door to the tower clearly marks the FAA facility, warning “Loss of human life may result from service interruption.”
Reed told the four men that they also could face federal charges.
“This is a serious matter,” he added before noting that none of them has a prior criminal history and they are not considered flight risks. Reed set bail at $25,000 each.
All four appeared voluntarily at Monday’s arraignment accompanied by relatives.
Ede is a West Point Academy cadet; Herman and Moyer are sophomores at Susquehanna University; and Eyster is a York College sophomore.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters confirmed Monday that the FAA is investigating an “unauthorized entry” to a building near Selinsgrove.
“The entrants did not damage the building or equipment and did not pose a safety risk to any aircraft,” he said.
Peters did not respond to questions about the building’s security or how it could have been breached.
Heritage Aviation General Manager Jon Trainor, who also is a flight instructor at Penn Valley Airport in Penn Township, said he’s surprised the men were able to gain entry to the tower.
“They must have been pretty intent on getting in,” he said. “Every time I’ve been there, it’s been locked and I’ve had to have a representative from the FAA let me in.”
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