A US airline pilot has been arrested after allegedly trying to board a flight for New York City with a loaded .357-calibre pistol in his bag. He is alleged to have been carrying the same Magnum revolver with him on numerous flights for at least a week.
Brett Dieter, 52, has been charged with attempting to board an aircraft with a concealed firearm. The offence, if proved, carries a maximum 10 years imprisonment and a USD250,000 fine.
Dieter is employed by Piedmont Airlines, a wholly owned subsidiary of US Airways Group. He was scheduled to pilot a flight to LaGuardia International Airport in New York City, according to the charges.
As Dieter walked through security at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent noticed what appeared to be a handgun concealed in his luggage, Buffalo News reported.
The paper said Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority police officers then retrieved from Dieter’s bag a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver, loaded with five bullets. They placed him under arrest.
The paper said Dieter is further suspected of having taken the gun along with him in the same bag earlier last week while piloting another Piedmont flight to New York. In what appears to be a security lapse, he did not submit his bag for screening on the previous occasion. Neither, authorities say, did he do so when he piloted seven other flights over the course of two days, all with the gun in his bag.
An official statement released by the TSA says pilot access points vary from airport to airport. Some airports let pilots aboard “through areas other than official checkpoints”.
US pilots and flight crew are forbidden to carry weapons aboard aircraft unless they are members of the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program, run by the Federal Air Marshal Service with the aim of allowing select pilots of commercial airline flights to carry firearms. Dieter is not a member.
A court has freed Dieter pending a scheduled court appearance this Wednesday.
Meanwhile, US Airways is conducting an urgent internal investigation.
A Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver, depending on model, holds six or eight rounds of ammunition without reloading. Dieter’s was allegedly loaded with five rounds.
Although no one wants unauthorised guns on planes in real life, they feature frequently in fiction. The James Bond film Goldfinger (1964) graphically showed the effect of a pistol fired inside a plane. At least, that’s the way it looked. In the movie, a fight between Bond and the evil Goldfinger erupts aboard Goldfinger’s private jet, piloted by Pussy Galore. As Bond and Goldfinger struggle, the gun goes off, blowing out a window and causing the plane to depressurise. Goldfinger is sucked out through the window and the plane plummets.
An episode of popular US television program MythBusters, however, looked into the matter. Their investigation concluded that a gunshot would not bring about a sudden depressurisation as depicted in Goldfinger.
Incidentally, Smith & Wesson’s .357 Magnum cartridge was introduced in 1934 just after the end of America’s wild era of gangsters and prohibition. It ushered in the age of Magnum handgun ammunition. Clint Eastwood, as fictional San Francisco police detective ‘Dirty Harry’ Callahan in films such as Magnum Force (1973), favoured a .44-calibre Magnum revolver.
The .357 Magnum enjoys “a positive reputation for stopping power” according to handgun websites.
Written by Peter Needham