Family of teen who apparently fell from plane hires legal representation

Delvonte Tisdale (Source:
Delvonte Tisdale (Source:
Airplanes on the Charlotte runway
Airplanes on the Charlotte runway

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The family of the Charlotte teen who apparently snuck into the wheel well of a plane and later fell to his death has officially hired legal representation, according to their family pastor.

Pastor James Woodson said on Wednesday that from what he understands, 16-year-old Delvonte Tisdale managed to sneak onto Charlotte Douglas International Airport grounds through a hole in the fence line.

Woodson said that attorneys out of Gainesville, Florida, are now trying to figure out how he got to the airport.

On Tuesday, Charlotte Douglas International Airport Aviation Director formally requested police to conduct an investigation "to determine how someone may have gained access to a commercial aircraft."

Last week, a Massachusetts prosecutor said it appeared Charlotte-Douglas Airport had a "major breach of security," and it is unclear what if any security changes have been made in Charlotte because of it.

Earlier this week, Orr refused to say if any changes in security have been made since the airport first learned that 16-year old North Meck High student may have breached airport security and climbed into the wheel well of a plane.

Authorities believe Delvonte Tisdale fell to his death November 15th near Boston when the plane opened its landing gear. "I'm not going to talk about our security procedures with you," Orr said when we tracked him down outside Monday night's Charlotte City Council meeting.

When we explained that he didn't have to give specifics, just tell us if anything had been done, Orr still refused to answer the question. The airport says it has a policy that it doesn't talk about matters of security.

In a press release sent out Monday, Charlotte Douglas did say that it would cooperate with the Transportation Security Administration in an investigation of what happened.

Also on Monday, Charlotte City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon called for a report from the airport on what it can do to make sure nothing like this happens again. "My concern right now is making sure that going forward, we're not allowing people to just get on a tarmac at any point, at any place, at any time," Cannon said.

Norfolk District Attorney William Keating said on Friday that it appears Charlotte-Douglas Airport had a "major breach of security," and it is unclear what if anything the airport has done to keep it from happening again.

Keating said police searched the area Friday in Milton where 16-year-old Delvonte Tisdale was found last month, and found sneakers and a shirt matching clothing his family said he'd worn. He said the items were found along a path a Boston-bound plane would have taken while approaching the city.

Keating said authorities believe Tisdale hid in the airplane, in what Keating called a very serious national security issue.

Charlotte Douglas public affairs manager Haley Gentry put out a statement that said: "Charlotte Douglas Airport Officials have not been in contact with investigators in Massachusetts during the Tisdale investigation.  We now expect that the information released today will trigger a local investigation involving Charlotte Douglas, the TSA and the FAA."

Gentry declined an interview request and said the airport wouldn't comment more until perhaps Monday.  That leaves serious questions unanswered.

One question:  If as authorities say investigators from Massachusetts were on airport property investigating this case late last week, how could the airport not have been in contact with them?

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration put out a statement that seemed to try to place the blame on Charlotte-Douglas:

"We will work with the airport, which is responsible for access control security, to conduct a thorough investigation based on the facts and information provided by law enforcement."

But Keating said this isn't a time for agencies involved to be concerned about who to blame.

"I don't think it's an issue where you pass the ball from one agency to another," Keating said.  "It shouldn't be an issue of who's responsible.  Everybody should be looking at what they can do to make sure this doesn't happen."

Tisdale's body was found on Nov. 15, less than 24 hours after he was last seen in Charlotte. The wheel well theory has consistently been the only thing that explains how he could have gotten to the Boston area so fast, and how his body could have been mutilated so badly.

Keating said he held the press conference Friday because he felt the public needed to know about the security threat, and because he hopes this will lead to something being done about it.

"If that was a terrorist, that could be a bomb that was planted on there undetected.  So this is very serious," he said.

Passengers at Charlotte-Douglas were very concerned as well, and outraged in light of recent security changes in which passengers are body scanned and patted down.

"It's annoying," said passenger Brad Tischler.  "They're going to strip search us, and yet they let guys go into wheel wells."

"I'm confident that the appropriate steps will be taken to look into the situation," said Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx. "All of us are deeply concerned about what happened to this young man, and the entire community has an interest in getting to the bottom of what happened," he said.

"My son was a good kid," said Anthony Tisdale, Delvonte's father. "He didn't deserve not to be with his family for Christmas."

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