WHY ARE SKY MARSHALS ALLOWED TO FIRE WEAPONS ONBOARD PLANES?
Opening fire 10 kilometres above the ground sounds like a death wish: if a sky marshal – the term for a counter-terror agent disguised as a passenger – shoots wide of the mark or a ricochet smashes through the fuselage, then you’re in big trouble. Despite this, no shooting ban applies to sky marshals, who are deployed to combat any would-be terrorists on board.
US federal air marshals (FAMS) carry a Sig Sauer P250 or P229 pistol as standard. On board they use ammunition specially developed for the purpose of hitting ‘soft targets’.these ‘frangible’ bullets will disintegrate upon contact with a surface harder than the bullet itself or will fragment into tiny pieces when the target is hit. As a result they achieve a high level of stopping power, because they transfer a large part of their kinetic energy to their target when they strike instead of gliding straight through. This means the shots can disable a terrorist, but won’t penetrate hard materials like an aircraft’s cabin wall. Sky marshals aren’t just deployed on flights originating in the US. Almost every European country has a force of its own. In Australia, sky marshals were introduced in 2001, in response to 9/11, although the precise details remain top secret. After all, it’s important that the marshals work in secrecy in order to prevent terrorists from getting an information advantage.
Ricochets on board could lead to catastrophe. For that reason sky marshals use a special type of ammunition for soft targets.
SECRET MISSION Sky marshals only make themselves known in an emergency. And even then they don’t always brandish a weapon as shown here in the film Non-stop.