Stun gun found in Boston-to-NJ jet after arrival

July 11, 2011 6:49:07 PM PDT
A cellphone-size stun gun found aboard a JetBlue plane arriving from Boston didn't appear intended to be used in an attack, authorities said Monday.

Authorities would not identify the passenger assigned to the seat where the device was found in a seat-back pocket, but Bryan Travers, a spokesman for the FBI's Newark office, said it wasn't a law enforcement official. Federal air marshals don't carry the devices, he added.

The FBI's office in Boston is leading the investigation into how the stun gun got onto the plane, which departed from Boston's Logan Airport.

The stun gun was found by a crew that was cleaning Flight 1179 around 10:20 p.m. Friday, after the flight had landed at Newark Liberty International Airport. All 96 passengers were off the plane. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police removed the stun gun from the plane and handed it over to the federal Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for screening passengers.

A police report said the cleaning crew had found a black stun gun in a black case resembling a cellphone, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said. There were no indications it had been fired.

Stun guns marketed for personal protection or shaped like cellphones are readily available online. There are also larger sizes, often shaped like pistols, that are increasingly being used by police departments across the country. Some organizations strongly oppose them, fearful they can be abused without clear guidelines.

The device, which usually works by firing wired barbs that stick into a person's body and deliver a powerful and immobilizing shock, are governed by restrictions in many states, including New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Authorities didn't say whether the stun gun found on the JetBlue flight looked like a cellphone or was just the size and weight of one.

Security expert Bruce Schneier said items sometimes slip through security, and it's unlikely the breach was intentional. He said the media's reporting on each item that makes it through security, despite the large percentage of the items that are detected and confiscated on a daily basis, is what alarms the public.

"The big picture is, airports are safe, this is all security theater," he said. "Airport security doesn't have to be perfect to be good enough; perfect is too expensive."

Others worry how a weapon banned or restricted in many states could make it onto a plane when restrictions have been tightened to that more innocuous items are banned.

Greg Comcowich, a spokesman for the FBI's Boston office, declined to comment on the investigation.

"We understand the public is interested in this case, but we are not releasing any information at this time," he said.


Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this story from Haddonfield, N.J.