Box Cutter Suspect Out On Bail

A college student who told authorities he placed box cutters and other banned items aboard two airliners to test security was charged Monday with taking a dangerous weapon aboard an aircraft and was released without bail.

Nathaniel Heatwole, 20, told federal authorities he placed box cutters and other banned items aboard two Southwest Airlines planes nearly five weeks before they were found, according to an FBI affidavit. He said he went through normal security procedures at airports in Baltimore and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Once aboard, he said he hid the banned items in compartments in the planes' rear lavatories.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled Nov. 10.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey Eisenberg said the government was not seeking detention.

Defense attorney Charles Leeper told U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey that it was Heatwole's "sincere desire to return to college and attend classes."

The first bag was carried on in Raleigh-Durham on Sept. 12 — the day after the two-year anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks — and the second on Sept. 15 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the affidavit said.

Each bag contained a note detailing when and where the bags were carried aboard, as well as modeling clay simulated to look like plastic explosives, matches and bleach hidden in sunscreen bottles.

Heatwole, a junior at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., apparently wanted to shine a spotlight on aviation security by putting banned items aboard planes, authorities say.

FBI spokesman Bill Carter said the FBI had no other information on the proceedings and directed calls to the U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore. Messages left with the U.S. Attorney's office Sunday weren't returned.

On Thursday night, Southwest Airlines maintenance workers found small plastic bags containing box cutters, bleach, matches and modeling clay in lavatory compartments on planes in New Orleans and Houston.

Notes in the bags "indicated the items were intended to challenge Transportation Security Administration checkpoint security procedures," according to a statement from Southwest Airlines.

A Bush administration official has said the suspected perpetrator last month sent the government an e-mail warning of his intention to conceal suspicious items on six planes and provided dates and locations for the plan.

The suspect was identified through a database search that linked the bags found on the planes to the e-mail, the Transportation Security Administration said.

The discovery triggered stepped-up inspections of the entire U.S. commercial air fleet — roughly 7,000 planes. But after consulting with the FBI, the TSA rescinded the inspection order.

No other such suspicious bags were found in the inspection.