Thursday, December 08, 2005

Eyewitness: I Never Heard the Word "Bomb"

At least one passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 924 maintains the federal air marshals were a little too quick on the draw when they shot and killed Rigoberto Alpizar as he frantically attempted to run off the airplane shortly before take-off.

"I don't think they needed to use deadly force with the guy," says John McAlhany, a 44-year-old construction worker from Sebastian, Fla. "He was getting off the plane."

..."I never heard the word 'bomb' on the plane," McAlhany told TIME in a telephone interview. "I never heard the word bomb until the FBI asked me did you hear the word bomb. That is ridiculous." Even the authorities didn't come out and say bomb, McAlhany says. "They asked, 'Did you hear anything about the b-word?'" he says. "That's what they called it."

When the incident began McAlhany was in seat 24C, in the middle of the plane. "[Alpizar] was in the back," McAlhany says, "a few seats from the back bathroom. He sat down." Then, McAlhany says, "I heard an argument with his wife. He was saying 'I have to get off the plane.' She said, 'Calm down.'"

Alpizar took off running down the aisle, with his wife close behind him. "She was running behind him saying, 'He's sick. He's sick. He's ill. He's got a disorder," McAlhany recalls. "I don't know if she said bipolar disorder [as one witness has alleged]. She was trying to explain to the marshals that he was ill. He just wanted to get off the plane."

McAlhany described Alpizar as carrying a big backpack and wearing a fanny pack in front. He says it would have been impossible for Alpizar to lie flat on the floor of the plane, as marshals ordered him to do, with the fanny pack on. "You can't get on the ground with a fanny pack," he says. "You have to move it to the side."

...McAlhany said he saw Alpizar before the flight and is absolutely stunned by what unfolded on the airplane. He says he saw Alpizar eating a sandwich in the boarding area before getting on the plane. He looked normal at that time, McAlhany says. He thinks the whole thing was a mistake: "I don't believe he should be dead right now."

Update: The Feds are now backing off the 'B' word remark as James E. Bauer, agent in charge of the air marshals' Miami field office, stated that Alpizar "uttered threatening words that included a sentence to the effect that he had a bomb."

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