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Knives on Planes
Defending Against Edged Weapons on Commercial Flights
After the crashes of hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, some reports speculated that the hijackers were armed just with knives. How could the hijackers get onto a commercial flight with knives, and what could have been done about it? folding knives
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 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Hijacker with a Knife
• Part 2: Defending Against a Knife

Updated Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Knife-wielding Hijacker

A hijacker holds an 8-inch knife to the back of a stewardess of a large jumbo jet. He gains access to the cockpit, then stabs the pilot to death.

Luckily, in this 1999 incident, the co-pilot of All Nippon Airways (ANA) Flight 61 was able to land the plane safely in Tokyo. However, the pilot lost his life subduing the hijacker.

Aboard one of the aircraft impacting the World Trade Center, a passenger calling from her cellular phone said the hijackers were armed with knives and cardboard box cutters. How could a hijacker get past security with a knife?

Security Restricts Long Blades

On U.S. domestic flights that I've flown, security allowed pocketknives with blades shorter than 3 inches to be taken into the passenger cabin. Some security officers used their palm or their ID badge as a ruler to determine if the blade was of allowable length. While many defensive tactics experts don't consider a 3-inch long blade an effective offensive weapon, any sharp blade can cut flesh, and could have been used to take a flight attendant hostage.

According to CNN, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) used to allow knives with blades shorter than 4 inches to be carried into the passenger cabin. As of September 12, 2001, FAA regulations now ban all knives--of any blade length--from being brought onboard. Knives must be checked into baggage that will be placed in the locked cargo hold.

The knife used in the Japanese hijacking was a large kitchen knife. The Japan hijacker used a loophole to bypass the x-ray check at security--he first flew from Haneda airport to Osaka, checking the bag containing the knife into a storage area. On returning to Haneda, he picked up the bag from the storage area through an unguarded entrance, carrying the bag, and the knife, onto his next flight--the flight he hijacked.

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