Friday, August 26, 2016

Eppley Airfield (KOMA) officials address security after man crashes truck into plane: 'I want the public to understand that the perimeter fence is just one layer of our security,' airport police chief says

Delairo Koonce, 35, parked his own pickup outside a parking garage at the airport about 9:30 p.m. and walked to the south end of a driveway in front of the terminal. There, he screamed that people were trying to kill him, said Tim Conahan, the chief of the Omaha Airport Authority Police Department. 

OMAHA, Neb. —Omaha police identified the man involved in Thursday's trespassing and destruction of property incidents at Eppley Airfield.

The suspect, Delairo Koonce, 35, had parked his vehicle in the airport main drive and was acting erratically, screaming and flailing his arms, police say.

An Eppley Airfield officer attempted to contact him, but police say he ran into the airport parking garage. Officers attempted to contain Koonce as he began removing his clothing.

While additional officers responded, Koonce "was able to conceal himself in landscaping shrubbery and officers lost sight of him for a short period of time," a press release said.

According to police, Koonce was then observed scaling an eight foot barbed wire fence leading to the airport south ramp.

Koonce ran from the inside of the fence into a construction area where he jumped into an unattended airline pickup truck.

For four minutes, he led airport police on a chase that ended when  struck the landing gear of a Southwest Airline plane that was boarding passengers.

"The lady who gets them on board started screaming get off the jet bridge. You've got to get off the jet bridge and then it shook,” said Shannon Hale, who witnessed the incident.

Koonce was taken into custody, and was transported to Nebraska Medicine with minor injuries.

Friday, Omaha Airport Police Chief Tim Conahan addressed the security breach.

"I want the public to understand that the perimeter fence is just one layer of our security,” Conahan said. "One of the reason our protocols work so well is because he never got close to an active runway or a taxiway where planes were landing and moving."

Koonce's father Brian says his son has been struggling with mental illness and drug addiction for around two years now.

He says he believes Thursday night's incident was a cry for help.

"That's what I believe my son was doing when he did this. It's not a good thing, it's a stupid thing -- but still, why would a person strip down to their boxers, and then go steal a car and run it into an airplane if he wasn't seeking attention?" Koonce said.

Koonce says his son has been trying to get help for at least a couple of years, bouncing from therapist to therapist to battle his meth addiction – but hasn’t been able to find the program he needs.

“He's been begging, every hospital just about around here knows his name because he's went in there asking for help, you know, and there's not a program set up that'll 'handle that,' as they put it,” Brian Koonce said.

Koonce has four children, and his father says that before his drug problems began, he had a successful lawn care business.

He was supposed to see a therapist Wednesday morning, and Brian Koonce says when he didn’t hear back from him Thursday, that's when he started to get worried.

Koonce has a lengthy criminal record -- in the past, he's been charged with assault, two counts of driving under the influence, and carrying unregistered firearms.

Charges are pending his release from the hospital.

Story and video:

A man in Nebraska managed to scale an airport fence, strip down to his boxer shorts, steal a pickup truck and crash it into the nose of an airliner, officials and eyewitnesses said.

Authorities are now investigating how the suspect allegedly managed to get onto the runway of Omaha's Eppley International Airport on Thursday night and ram the Southwest Airlines aircraft at high speed.

Tim Conahan, chief of police at the Omaha Airport Authority, said the suspect's behavior possibly indicated "some type of drug overdose or that he has mental issues."

Conahan said that an officer first noticed the suspect " acting in a bizarre manner" and saying "someone was trying to kill him" at around 9:30 p.m. local time (10:30 p.m. ET).

The man bolted through a parking garage and into bushes on the perimeter of the airport — before scaling a barbed-wire fence — according to the officer.

He then found a pickup truck owned by Southwest Airlines that had its engine running and climbed in. After police cut him off as he was going under a jet bridge used to board the aircraft, the suspect crashed the truck into the plane's nosecone, Conahan said.

The aircraft was about to take off for Denver and had 18 passengers on board at the time, according to a statement from Southwest Airlines.

Passengers Beth and Tom Lantry — who were flying to Denver — said they felt "a big jolt." David Postier, a 23-year-old from Littleton, Colorado, said he heard a "loud boom and crash."

Police said the pilot suffered a slight knee injury and a flight attendant bumped an elbow.

The suspect was taken into police custody, according to the airline's statement. Police chief Conahan said the FBI had been notified and the NTSB were also flying out Friday to investigate.


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