NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Authorities said a teenager accused of concocting an ill-conceived plot to hijack an airliner got on board with handcuffs and duct tape — a combination that doesn't violate security procedures aimed at thwarting terrorists.
The 16-year-old boy was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight at Nashville's airport Tuesday and arrested. Authorities said he was calm during the flight, made no apparent attempt to commandeer the plane and had little chance of succeeding had he tried.
Transportation Security Administration spokesman Sterling Payne wouldn't comment on how authorities became suspicious of the teenager, but the agency expressed concern about the items he was allowed to carry on board.
"This case highlights the importance of integrating law enforcement and security," the TSA said in a statement. "None of the items in his possession were prohibited."
The FBI first reported when the arrest was made public Thursday that the boy was also carrying rope, but the TSA described it Friday as yarn.
The FBI also had said Thursday that a search of his California home revealed a "mock cockpit." Nashville prosecutor Jon Seaborg said what was found in the home was "a photograph of the inside of a small aircraft, something you'd find in a bookstore."
The FBI also had described the boy as suicidal, but federal officials and prosecutors would not comment on that claim Friday.
Nashville-area prosecutors and court officials said the teen pleaded guilty Friday to a "delinquent act," but they refused to provide other details. A juvenile court judge ordered the boy sent back to California for disposition of that charge and other charges pending against him.
The boy's name has not been released because of his age.
Federal prosecutors were still deciding whether federal counts were warranted.
A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the teen's juvenile status, said the boy was from Novato, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco, but could not elaborate.
Charles Slepian, an airline security consultant with the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center in New York, said security screeners could have held the suspect if they felt if he or the contents of his baggage were suspicious.
"If they had some reason to believe he's a threat, he shouldn't be on the plane in the first place," Slepian said.
Slepian said whether or not the items were prohibited, the combination of them "should rise to the level of additional inquiry."
Because of security advancements after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the teenager likely could not have taken control of the plane anyway, Slepian said.
"I don't know how he could hijack the airplane with handcuffs, rope and duct tape," Slepian said. "There is no way. Even if he had a gun, he can't get into the cockpit. I don't look at this a major threat."
The FBI dismissed television reports Thursday night citing unnamed police sources who told them that the teen was planning to crash the plane into a "Hannah Montana" concert in Lafayette, La. That concert is scheduled for Friday night.