Governor Orders Security Review of all Connecticut Airports After Plane Stolen

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered state homeland security officials Thursday to inspect the security of all airports in Connecticut after an intoxicated 20-year-old man allegedly stole a small plane from Danbury Municipal Airport and flew it to New York.

The pilot, Philippe Patricio of Bethel, took two friends on a three-hour joyride early Wednesday that ended with a safe landing at a darkened Westchester County Airport, authorities said.

''Had the person who stole that plane had other intentions, we could have had a very serious situation on our hands,'' Rell said. ''I want to be certain that every precaution is taken and every safeguard is in place at our airports. We cannot risk any threat to our citizens and public safety.''

Patricio was arrested with a blood alcohol level of 0.15 - nearly double the legal limit for driving in New York state, said Westchester County Police Commissioner Thomas Belfiore. He was charged with possession of stolen property and reckless endangerment. Patricio's two 16-year-old passengers were not charged or publicly named.

Danbury police also were considering charges against Patricio.

Westchester County Executive Andrew Spanoangrily asserted that post-Sept. 11 security measures in place at the Westchester airport were not duplicated at Danbury, where the single-engine Cessna 172 Skyhawk departed at about 1:30 a.m.

A stolen plane, he said, ''could possibly be a weapon'' and the Cessna ''could have crashed into any number of areas,'' he said.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said the city-owned recreational airport meets federal safety regulations and has different requirements than airports with commercial flights.

Rell ordered the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security to send teams to all private and publicly owned airports in Connecticut to assess safety and security issues and concerns and then make recommendations later this summer for improvements wherever necessary.

''Public safety is always paramount, and if there are ways we can help our local airports, we will do it,'' Governor Rell said. ''Airport security remains a top priority, and I'm certain that there are steps that can be taken so that all of us can rest a little easier.''

Rell said all precautions, from locking the wheels of all planes on the ground to high-tech security and surveillance measures, will be reviewed and considered.

The Westchester airport is on the Connecticut border, 25 to 30 miles from Danbury.

Strat Sherman, a member of the Danbury Airport Neighbors Association, said the airport has a history of lax security and accidents.

''The fence around the airport is something I could vault over,'' said Sherman, who is 52.

Paul Estefan, the Danbury airport administrator, rejected the criticism and said they don't know how Patricio got in.

''We're all locked and fenced in here,'' he said.

Estefan and the Arrow Aviation flight school insisted the school still had the only keys to the plane. New York officials said the suspects had keys.

Patrico, who flew a few times with the flight school, may have gained access to the airport by having a code to the gate, Boughton said.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters said ''We're looking at a wide range'' of regulations to see what violations may have occurred.

Kathleen Roy, spokeswoman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a general aviation group, said it worked with federal officials on recommendations for security at general aviation airports like Danbury. She said they include an ''airport watch program,'' similar to a neighborhood watch, enhanced outdoor lighting, secure hangars and limited vehicle access at flight schools.

''Security is extremely important to us, that's why we teamed with the government, to improve security and awareness,'' Roy said.

Roy said there were 11 planes reported stolen nationwide last year.

Patricio was arraigned Wednesday night. He was being held without bail and was due back in court Friday.

Telephone messages left at the only Patricio home listed in Bethel were not returned.