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‘Stricken’ Pilot Was Seen Moving in Plane

From Associated Press

Military pilots who chased Thomas Root on his flight down the East Coast saw his head move back and forth several times during the 800-mile trip when he claimed to be unconscious, a federal investigator said today.

Andrew Alston, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board said military pilots also noticed changes in the position of the sun visor on the plane’s windshield.

And officials said a blood test screening for carbon monoxide in Root’s blood system turned up negative, raising further questions about whether he fell unconscious.

Root was confronted with the pilots’ accounts this morning but was unable to explain the movement, Alston said. Root has maintained that he lost consciousness and traveled on autopilot before ditching in Bahamian waters last week.

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“Various pilots reported that as he was intercepted from the right his head would turn to the right and as he was intercepted from the left, his head would move to the left,” Alston said. “The sun visor moved position at least three times during the flight.”

Alston said any criminal investigation about the mystery flight would be handled by the FBI.

Root, 36, remains in stable condition at Memorial Hospital in Hollywood with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. He has said that he doesn’t know why he passed out during the flight and claimed that his .32-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, kept in the plane’s glove compartment, discharged during the crash.

Dick Bachmann, vice president of Smith & Wesson, told the AP that the gun’s safety features make such accidental firings impossible. “Suggestions that it could are absolutely false,” he said.

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And Witt, a veteran homicide investigator, told the AP there was “indisputable scientific proof” that Root’s bullet wound was at least four hours old when he arrived at the hospital.

Witt’s claim supported the findings of U.S. Coast Guard surgeon James Rahman, who has said that peritonitis--or inflammation of the abdominal cavity--showed Root must have been shot at least two hours before he was rescued.

“All this would indicate that Mr. Root is being less than truthful,” Witt said.


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