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Sat, Jul 19, 2003

FA Accused Of Setting Fire On Commercial Flight

Also Charged With Making Post-9/11 Bomb Threat

A 23-year old ComAir flight attendant has been indicted on charges he tried to crash a commuter aircraft. A federal grand jury indicted Turhan Jamar Lamons yesterday, charging him with setting a fire in the lavatory of ComAir Flight 5491 on May 8. The 50-passenger Bombardier CRJ was on a run from Atlanta (GA) to Huntsville (AL) when it made an emergency landing in Rome (GA).  No one was injured. The aircraft was evacuated and investigators later found bits of partially burned newspaper in the lav.

That's not all.

Lamons is also charged with phoning a gate at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta just six days after the 9/11 terror attacks and telling the attendant the AirTran flight there would be blown up in the air. "All passengers aboard Flight 278 are going to die," the caller said. The AirTran flight was evacuated and searched. Nothing was found. Police later said Lamons had called in the threat from his cell phone because his request for a day off had been turned down and he simply didn't want to fly. A Clayton County (GA) threw out the charges in October, 2001, but a local grand jury was able to piece together enough evidence to indict Lamons last April.

Now, here's the real question.

Lamons was indicted in April, yet he was still flying for ComAir. In fact, it means ComAir hired him while he was still under investigation for the September 2001 incident. Why didn't ComAir, the FAA, the TSA, the FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or anyone else pause to check Lamons's background?

A ComAir spokesman tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the airline was unaware of the investigation when it hired Lamons in August, 2002. Even though the grand jury indicted Lamons in April, he continued to fly for ComAir and now stands accused of trying to burn down Flight 5491.

Carter Morris, a spokesman for the American Association of Airport Operators, says the FBI sends a full background check on potential employees to the airlines. What happens after that, says Morris, is up to the carrier. ComAir spokesman Nick Miller told the Atlanta paper that the airline constantly reviews its hiring and security procedures with help from the TSA and the FBI.

Repeating: In the midst of all these background checks and super-tight security, why was Lamons allowed to crew for ComAir?

"We conducted a very, very stringent review in the aftermath of the May 8 incident," says Miller in Friday's Journal-Constitution. He says, after the incident, the backgrounds of all 5,500 ComAir employees were rechecked.

Yeah, but why was he allowed to work for ComAir in the first place? (Perhaps asking a third time's the charm?)

Miller says a grand jury indictment may not be enough to disqualify a job candidate. He says only convictions for crimes like murder, spying, treason, or conveying false threats would automatically kick an application like Lamons' into File 86. Miller tells the Atlanta newspaper, flight attendants "go through all federally mandated background checks that all other airline employees do."

Yeah, but then how…

Aw, forget it for now. But you can bet we'll remember this the next time we have to take off our belts and shoes at the terminal security checkpoint.

FMI: www.comair.com

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