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Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - Page updated at 01:42 PM

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Pilot's gun blasted small hole through cockpit wall of US Airways plane

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Photos show that a shot fired from a US Airways pilot's pistol blasted a small hole through the cockpit wall of a plane that landed in North Carolina.

The photos obtained today by The Associated Press show a small entry hole in the lower side of the cockpit wall and a small exit hole on the exterior below the cockpit window.

The AP described the photos and the bullet hole to US Airways spokesman Phil Gee, who said "they sound authentic."

Airline officials have said the accidental discharge Saturday during Flight 1536 from Denver to Charlotte did not endanger the 124 passengers plus crew on board. The gun went off as the airline was on its landing approach in North Carolina.

Gee says the pilot has been taken off duty during the investigation by the Transportation Security Administration. The plane, an Airbus A319, had been taken out of service after the event.

It is the first time a pilot's weapon has been fired on a plane under a program created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to allow pilots and others to use a firearm to defend against any act of air piracy or criminal violence, he said.

The Transportation Security Administration is investigating how the gun discharged and is being assisted by the Federal Air Marshal Service, said Greg Alter of the air marshal service.

The TSA initially opposed the Flight Deck Officer program to arm and train cockpit personnel. Agency officials worried that introducing a weapon to commercial flights was dangerous and that other security improvements made it unnecessary. Congress and pilots backed the program.

"The TSA has never been real supportive of this program," said Mike Boyd, who runs the Colorado-based aviation consulting firm The Boyd Group. "It's something I think Congress kind of put on them."

Pilots must volunteer, take a psychological test and complete a weeklong firearms training program run by the government to keep a gun in the cockpit.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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