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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 05:05 GMT
Man shot dead at Florida airport
American Airlines plane at Miami airport
The flight originated in Medellin

A man who claimed to have a bomb on board an American Airlines plane in Miami has been shot dead by US air marshals, officials say.

Rigoberto Alpizar, a 44-year-old US citizen, was killed in the air bridge after running out of the plane pursued by marshals who had broken their cover.

No bomb was found on Mr Alpizar whose wife had tried to explain he had a mental illness, one witness said.

It was the first time since 9/11 that air marshals had shot at a passenger.

I did hear the lady say her husband was bi-polar and had not had his medication
Mary Gardner
passenger

The US dramatically increased the number of air marshals on flights after the 2001 attacks.

Local police and federal officers are investigating the incident, but officials say so far there is no hint of any links to terrorism.

However, as a precaution, federal air marshals were deployed in airports across the country.

'Threatening words'

Mr Alpizar had arrived in Miami, Florida, from Ecuador and was boarding a flight to Orlando at about 1410 local time (1910 GMT).

Undated family photo of Rigoberto Alpizar and his wife, Anne Buechner
Alpizar had been married about 22 years, relatives said

Carrying a backpack and travelling with a woman apparently his wife, he had cleared customs and was boarding the Orlando flight, which had originated in Medellin, Colombia.

"At some point, he uttered threatening words that included a sentence to the effect that he had a bomb," said Miami Federal Air Marshals official James Bauer.

"There were federal air marshals on board the aircraft. They came out of their cover, confronted him, and he remained noncompliant with their instructions.

"As he was attempting to evade them, his actions caused the FAMs to fire shots, and in fact he is deceased."

Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Joanna Gonzalez said Mr Alpizar had fled from the aircraft through the air bridge going toward the terminal.

"At that point, he appeared to be reaching into his carry-on bag... the air marshals took the appropriate action and that's when the shots were fired," she added.

'Hysteria'

Mary Gardner, a fellow passenger, told local television that the man had run frantically down the aisle of the Boeing 757 screaming while his wife tried to explain he was ill.

"I did hear the lady say her husband was bi-polar and had not had his medication," she said.

"I saw the woman... she was hysterical."

Neighbours of Mr Alpizar in Maitland, Florida, remembered him as a "very quiet guy".

He had, relatives said, been married to his wife Anne Buechner for about 22 years.

Television images showed police and emergency response officers surrounding the plane after the incident.

Investigators spread passengers' bags on the tarmac as sniffer dogs checked them for explosives. The airport later resumed normal operations.


SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Air marshals
07 Dec 05 |  Americas
US tells airlines to use marshals
30 Dec 03 |  Americas
US air marshals demand resisted
30 Dec 03 |  Americas




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