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Teen’s death prompts airport probe

Security in doubt after fall from jet

By Shelley Murphy and Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / December 15, 2010

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Charlotte airport authorities have asked local police to investigate how 16-year-old Delvonte Tisdale was able to sneak onto the tarmac at the busy North Carolina airport and climb into the wheel well of a US Airways jet without being detected.

Jerry Orr, aviation director of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, made the announcement yesterday as the teenager’s family questioned how he was able to bypass security and as officials in North Carolina and Massachusetts also called for a thorough investigation.

Tisdale’s relatives believe that someone must have helped him get to the airport 18 miles from his home and into the plane and that the person could explain what happened.

“Right now, we’re just waiting for answers,’’ said an aunt in North Carolina, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Laura, because of the intense publicity the case has received. “Whoever helped him, I would just hope they would come forward. . . . I just wish someone would have the courage to come forward.’’

Tisdale’s mangled body was discovered Nov. 15 in a quiet Milton neighborhood. Last Friday, Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating said evidence indicated he had stowed away in the wheel well of a plane that left the Charlotte airport about 7 p.m. on Nov. 15, then fell from the sky as the landing gear came down on the approach to Logan International Airport.

The boy’s mother, Jonette Washington, told the Globe during an interview from her home in Baltimore Monday, “I am still very shocked about how he got to the airport, how he got on the plane.’’

Tisdale, a sophomore who was enrolled in the Air Force Junior ROTC program at his high school in Charlotte, had lived with his father, younger brother, and sister for the past 18 months.

Washington said that her children’s relationship with their father could be tense because he set tougher rules than she did and could be strict, but Delvonte never said to her that he wanted to return to Baltimore to live with her. But she said his friends later told her he had spoken about going to live with her.

A US Airways flight to Baltimore departed from the Charlotte airport about the same time as the flight to Boston that Tisdale was believed to be on, according to flight schedules.

“He kept talking about coming home, coming to find me,’’ Washington said. “I guess he thought it was his way of trying to find me.’’

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief will conduct the investigation, along with the Transportation Security Administration and US Airways.

“Obviously what has happened in the past, with the tragic event that occurred with the young man, is one we would not want to happen again,’’ said Patrick D. Cannon, Charlotte’s mayor pro tem, who has asked Orr to provide a detailed report on the airport’s security.

Cannon said one theory being investigated is that Delvonte may have scaled a 6-foot chain link fence that surrounds the airport and is topped by barbed wire.

David Traub, a spokesman for Keating, said Delvonte was not spotted on surveillance videos taken at the airport. Milton police and State Police are awaiting forensic results to determine whether Delvonte’s fingerprints match those found on the greasy wheel of the plane he was believed to have boarded.

Tisdale said that despite her grief, there is comfort in knowing that her son was not slain. “That’s what I’m happy about, to find out that no one did this to him, that he wasn’t beaten or hurt in any kind of way by a person,’’ she said. “That helps a lot.’’

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com; Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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