Are we safe with those hired to protect us in the air?
CNN has learned 10 federal air marshals have committed suicide since 2002.
There have also been questionable accidental deaths — such as a drowning and even a parachuting accident.
According to representatives of the Air Marshal Association, the number of federal air marshals who have killed themselves could be higher, and it is mainly due to stress.
A CNN investigation has uncovered evidence the federal air marshal sitting on your next flight may be sleep-deprived, medicated, under the influence of alcohol or worse.
And CNN has learned the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration may have been hiding the problem for years.
Sonya Hightower, a recently retired federal air marshal and an officer with the newly formed Air Marshal Association, says brutal schedules — and an even more brutal management within the Federal Air Marshal Service — could be putting the air marshals’ lives at risk and the flying public’s lives in danger.
The problem, she says, stems from management that has for years placed air marshals in schedules that are physically impossible to carry out without compromising one’s health.
Typical assignments include domestic missions with three to four flights a day, or quick turns on overnight international routes. Add to that the expectation that an air marshal has to be awake, alert and ready to take down a terrorist at any moment on every flight.
“Now do that 14, 15, 16 hours a day. Anybody’s patience, anybody’s ability to function at the highest level is going to be compromised,” Hightower told CNN.
When airline schedules get delayed, so does an air marshal’s sleep, which Hightower says management cares little about.