Arlene Thomas grew suspicious when two men with out-of-state drivers licenses and a large wad of cash came into her Illinois helicopter hangar Wednesday and said they wanted to see St. Louis landmarks from the sky, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The men, whom Thomas described as of “Middle Eastern descent,” were carrying a duffel bag and a backpack and drove up in a rental car with Texas license plates. The signs pointed to terrorism – that’s exactly the impression the two men, an NBC News producer and cameraman, were trying to create.
Thomas called police, who searched the bags and the men and found a butane lighter, box cutter, two knives, duct tape, a powdery substance and a bottle filled with a clear liquid. The men also had maps of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and St. Louis with major landmarks highlighted in yellow. The men, who police described as an Asian-Indian from Atlanta, were part of a story that NBC planned to air Thursday night about security at small airports that charter helicopters. But after the plan fell through, the incident was reduced to a brief mention at the end of the newscast. “I’m absolutely outraged that NBC News is out here trying to create news rather than report news,” said airport director Bob McDaniel. NBC spokesman Allison Gollust said “the system worked” and that NBC would report “evidence that civilians like those in Illinois are making attempts to keep the skies safe.”