Former Sky Marshal Recalls Airline Security - - The News for South Mississippi


Former Sky Marshal Recalls Airline Security

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking for some elite law enforcers to provide security aboard airlines.

Since the September 11th terrorist attack, there's been ongoing talk of putting armed federal marshals aboard some or all US flights.

It would be an expansion of an existing program that now falls under the Federal Aviation Administration. The program actually got its start some 30 years ago during the Nixon administration. At the time, airline hijackings prompted the creation of the Federal Sky Marshal program.

And an Ocean Springs man knows quite a bit about that history.

Pete Sparkes served as an armed sky marshal in 1971.

He says the mission was well defined. Stop the hijackings.

"You had an option. You could either capture the hijacker and handcuff him or you could shoot him and kill him. And everybody I flew with, without exception, all my partners were not going to fight any hijackers. We were going to shoot them on the spot."

Sparkes and his fellow sky marshals were well trained. They passed a four week course that emphasized physical conditioning, arrest techniques and shooting. Lots of shooting. So much pistol practice that the guns were falling apart.

"They literally, we fired them so much that the barrels were dropping out of them. The sights were dropping off. Just that much shooting. They weren't made for thousands and thousands of rounds consistently."

The sky marshal program of 1971 lasted just a year, but Sparkes says it was effective.

"There was never a hijacking. No airplanes were taken while the sky marshal program was in effect."

The sky marshal program of the early '70's was resurrected in 1985 and re named the Federal Air Marshal program following the hijacking of TWA flight 847. That's the flight where Robert Steadham, a Navy diver, was murdered.

With the recent talk of expanding the air marshal program further, the FAA is now advertising for federal air marshals on the Internet.

Sparkes likes the idea of using air marshals today in response to the threat of terrorism.

"I believe there should be sky marshals on there. I also believe that the pilots should be armed, if they desire."

By Steve Phillips

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