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Boater's strange odyssey exposes gap in JFK airport security

August 13, 2012|By Tina Susman
  • A boater unwittingly breached a $100-million security system at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday.
A boater unwittingly breached a $100-million security system at John F.… (Gunnar Richter / Wikimedia…)

NEW YORK -- A boater who became stranded in the bay off New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport swam toward the tarmac, clambered over a security fence, walked across runways and reached an airline terminal, embarrassing officials in charge of the facility's security system.

Daniel J. Casillo didn't even have to remove his jacket or shoes.

According to media accounts of his odyssey Saturday night, which was first reported by the New York Post, the 31-year-old Queens resident was still wearing a bright yellow life jacket and dripping wet, with snails in his shoes, when he reached the Delta terminal in search of assistance.

Instead, he was arrested for criminal trespass after an episode that has raised questions about the effectiveness of the system that is supposed to detect infiltrators at the airport's perimeter fences. Despite motion sensors and cameras, Casillo wasn't noticed until he surprised a Delta employee.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the area's airports, reportedly spent $100 million on the perimeter security system, which was designed by Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass.

"The Port Authority took immediate action to increase its 24/7 police presence with round the clock patrols of the facility's perimeter and increased patrols by boat of the surrounding waterway," the Port Authority police said in a statement. "We have called for an expedited review of the incident and a complete investigation to determine how Raytheon's perimeter intrusion detection system -- which exceeds federal requirements -- could be improved. Our goal is to keep the region's airports safe and secure at all times."

Casillo's problems began when he was out with friends on their personal watercraft on Jamaica Bay, next to JFK, on Saturday evening. He became separated from the group and then ran into problems with his Sea-Doo craft, so Casillo began swimming toward the nearest lights -- which turned out to be an airport runway.

According to the Post and to reenactments on local TV news, Casillo covered about three miles in the water before reaching land and scaling a fence topped with barbed wire. From there, he dropped onto a runway and began his long, wet walk toward the terminal.

Casillo's girlfriend, Deanna Cowan, offered some defense of her boyfriend even as she said he and his pals were acting "like idiots" by racing their watercraft. She told the New York Post that because of the dark, his friends didn't notice that Casillo was stalled, and they apparently did not hear his calls for help.

He swam toward the runway lights because they were the only land he could see, she said. "He didn't want to go that way, because you're not allowed to go over there," Cowan said.

Casillo was charged with criminal trespass. Port Authority police said they had no information on when he might appear in court.

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Join Rene Lynch on Google+ and Twitter. Email: rene.lynch@latimes.com

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