Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Man flew plane without pilot's license

A Napier man who flew a plane without a pilot's license in "complete disregard for the safety of others as well as himself" has been sentenced to community work.

Brian Hunter, 54, was given a final warning by Judge Tony Adeane in Napier District Court yesterday and sentenced to 300 hours community work, after he pleaded guilty to one charge of operating an aircraft without the required documentation.

A court summary of facts said Hunter had previously appeared in court for offending under the Civil Aviation Act and the Crimes Act. In November 1998 he was convicted for operating an aircraft without appropriate and current documents, fraudulently making documents, placing others in unnecessary danger and falsely representing himself as a pilot with an instructor's rating.

In the latest offense, the summary of facts said Hunter expressed an interest in purchasing a plane in September 2012 and traveled to Mahia to meet the seller, Richard Coop.

Hunter introduced himself as Brian Shaw and told Mr Coop he had significant prior flying experience in New Zealand and Australia and had flown a number of different aircraft.

Mr Coop took Hunter on a flight out to Portland Island off Mahia Peninsula, at which point Hunter asked if they could do a circuit to Wairoa.

When flying from Portland Island to Wairoa, Hunter controlled the aircraft from the right hand seat of the plane.

Mr Coop then landed the aircraft and the pair swapped seats so Hunter was in the command seat.

The summary said Hunter completed two circuits from Wairoa.

"However, during the first approach to land, Mr Coop felt nervous about the way the defendant was flying the aircraft and briefly placed his hands on the controls. He did not, however, take control of the aircraft."

Hunter then completed a take-off and landing without concern and eventually swapped seats with Mr Coop, who flew the plane from Wairoa to Mahia.

Despite indications that he wanted to purchase the plane, nothing ever eventuated.

Some weeks later Mr Coop was discussing his experience with "Brian Shaw" with aviation associates and, concerned he may have been misled, decided to research the name Brian Hunter.

Mr Coop found a photo of Hunter on the Hawke's Bay Today website and subsequently contacted the Civil Aviation Authority, which began investigating. A statement from the Civil Aviation Authority said the sentencing yesterday had "sounded an alarm" to the aviation community.

"The audacity and severity of these offenses is unprecedented by one individual. Our main concern is Mr Hunter's complete disregard for the safety of others as well as himself."

The CAA's director of civil aviation, Graeme Harris, said Mr Hunter was trying to "abuse the system".

"The CAA said the outcome and the sentence sent a strong message about the danger Mr Hunter posed to public safety. The judge commented that the offending presented a serious safety risk to the public.

"Mr Hunter has been placed on notice that any further offending of this type is likely to see a custodial sentence."

Mr Harris said the prosecution was a warning to all aircraft owners and operators that caution should be exercised before allowing other people to fly their aircraft.

"We must act to the full extent of the law where aviation safety is concerned. We believe the judge's decision of penalties imposed today is entirely appropriate for the offending."


Man charged with drunk driving murder after 2012 air show arrested again for DUI

A man accused of killing a girl while driving drunk after Tuscaloosa's 2012 air show was charged with a DUI in Northport Wednesday. 

Danny Ray Smith, 66, was charged with driving under the influence and was being held at the Tuscaloosa County Jail Wednesday, according to jail records.

Northport City Administrator Scott Collins said that Smith was arrested around 12:30 p.m. while driving on McFarland Boulevard near 32nd Avenue. He was driving a 2012 Jeep Wrangler registered in Florida, where he has been given permission to travel for business while out on bond for charges of murder, manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, first-degree assault and leaving the scene of an accident with injuries.

Smith was charged with murder in April 2012, after police said he struck 8-year-old Haylee Burks while driving drunk after the Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show. Burks, from Chilton County, was walking on the shoulder of Fifth Street with her family after the Blue Angels performance.

According to investigators, Smith was driving a 2008 GMC Sierra pickup and struck Haylee, her 3-year-old sister and their 28-year-old mother. Her mother suffered multiple fractured vertebrae and her sister lost a tooth.

Smith had been hosting a private party at Dixie Air Services, a fixed-base operator he owns at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport, police said at the time. Court records indicate that his blood alcohol level was .13 percent. The ticket issued Wednesday did not note whether a test was conducted. Smith was also ticketed for failure or refusal to show the officer proof of insurance.

Smith also owns Danny Smith Realty and Construction.

In December, Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge Brad Almond referred the criminal cases and a civil case filed by Haylee's mother to mediation and appointed retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Bernard Harwood as the mediator.

Court records indicate that Smith pleaded guilty to a DUI in Tuscaloosa in 1981.

Tuscaloosa County Deputy District Attorney Scott Holmes filed a motion to revoke his bond on the outstanding criminal charges on Wednesday afternoon. Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge Chuck Malone signed the order, which was filed just before 5 p.m.

Story and Comments/Reaction:

66-year-old Danny Ray Smith was arrested Wednesday afternoon in Northport and charged with driving under the influence. It's the third time he's been charged with that in Tuscaloosa County, and the last time it happened, he killed an 8-year-old girl that he hit with a truck while driving drunk in April 2012. 
(Tuscaloosa County Jail)

National Transportation Safety Board to Join Japanese Probe of Boeing 787 Battery Failure: Lithium-Ion Battery Aboard Parked Japan Airlines Jet Fails

The Wall Street Journal

By Jon Ostrower

Jan. 15, 2014 4:34 p.m. ET

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday it would join Japanese authorities investigating the failure of a lithium-ion battery aboard a parked Japan Airlines Co. Boeing 787.

The NTSB will join an inquiry lead by the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau into the failure, which came nearly a year after the advanced jet was grounded for 3 ½ months following twin incidents involving burning batteries on Dreamliners operated by Japanese airlines.

The NTSB had said on Tuesday it was ready to assist Japanese authorities, while the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it was helping with the investigation.

No one was hurt in Tuesday's incident at Narita Airport in Tokyo, in which a mechanic first saw smoke and then discovered that a relief port had vented on one of the plane's lithium-ion battery cells, spewing liquid inside the battery container.

Boeing said it is helping with the investigation, and that the incident appeared to show that modifications it made to the 787's battery systems last year worked as intended.


Kentucky receives free jet from U.S. government

FRANKFORT, KY – The Kentucky State Police has expanded its aircraft fleet at no upfront cost to the Commonwealth by acquiring a former U.S. Air Force jet through a military surplus program.

The 1984 Learjet 35 is now the newest aircraft owned by KSP. The plane has been valued at $1 million.

Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown said the state will incur some costs to convert the plane from military to commercial use, including navigation and radio systems, inspections and pilot training.

“By registering with the surplus program and moving quickly when this opportunity became available, state police was able to procure an asset that would have otherwise been impossible, but that will have significant long term benefits for the Commonwealth,” Brown said.

As part of the state police aircraft fleet, the plane will be used to respond to situations across the Commonwealth that require specialized teams to be moved into place quickly, such as a hostage negotiation team. The plane will also be used by the executive branch from time to time as the need dictates, including for economic development purposes.

The plane is quicker and more efficient for flying longer distances, Brown said. It won’t replace the state’s 1972 King Air airplane, but can be used when “mission appropriate,” such as longer distances or when time is a consideration.

Because of the relative low number of hours on its engines and other major mechanical systems, the aircraft won’t need any significant maintenance for 10 years, according to Capt. Brandon Hammers, head of KSP’s Aircraft Support Branch.

The plane was acquired through a program of the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO), established by the U.S. Department of Defense through the Defense Logistics Agency. It allows law enforcement agencies to obtain surplus military weapons, tactical vehicles, aircraft and other equipment for any bona fide law enforcement need at no cost.


Immigration and Customs Enforcement sold drug smugglers doomed jet

A Tampa-based Immigrations and Customs Enforcement undercover operation sold a Gulfstream II turbojet — which crashed in Mexico seven years ago with nearly four tons of cocaine onboard — to suspected drug smugglers in Clearwater shortly before the mishap. That’s according to federal documents in an ongoing drug case involving some of the people in the 2007 aircraft sale.

That jet took off from the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport — where it was sold — on Sept. 16, 2007. Eight days later, it crashed in the Yucatan Peninsula with 3.7 tons of cocaine onboard.

The sale of that jet to the ICE undercover operation known as Mayan Jaguar was brokered by a former race car driver named Don Whittington, now the owner of a Fort Lauderdale charter jet company called World Jet Inc. In 1987, Whittington pleaded guilty to federal tax charges. He is currently being investigated for possibly using a Colorado hot springs resort, registered to the same address as World Jet, to launder the proceeds of aircraft used for drug smuggling — including the Gulfstream, according to a search warrant affidavit for Whittington’s emails.

The affidavit, now sealed, was obtained by the Durango Herald last fall. It was left unsealed accidently and sealed after the paper obtained it to protect sources and tactics, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver.

Carissa Cutrell, a spokeswoman for ICE in Tampa, confirmed the existence of Mayan Jaguar as a drug interdiction effort in the mid-2000s but had no details about the operation.

Whittington brokered the sale of the Gulfstream from SA Holdings LLC to a Coconut Creek-based company called Donna Blue Aircraft, which turned out to be an ICE front company, according to the search warrant affidavit. Donna Blue Aircraft then sold the jet to two pilots who “have long been targets of DEA investigations for the trafficking of cocaine from South America to Central America and Mexico,” according to the affidavit. One of those pilots, Gregory Dean Smith, “currently works as a contract pilot for Don Whittington and World Jet, Inc.,” according to the affidavit.

World Jet’s office was raided in November, according to the DEA, after a yearlong investigation “revealed that Don Whittington sold and leased multiple jet aircraft to purchasing agents of Venezuelan, Colombian, African and Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations,” the affidavit states.

The proceeds from those sales were invested in a Western Colorado spa, investigators say in the search warrant affidavit.

The sale of the Gulfstream, another jet at St. Pete-Clearwater and other planes from the area have long been the subject of scrutiny by international investigators and government officials.

Mexican authorities who issued an arrest warrant for a top financier of the Sinaloa drug cartel uncovered the connection between the cartel and the purchase of two jets, according to Mexican authorities.

The investigations reached the attention of high-level officials in the U.S. and Mexican governments concerned with the nexus between smuggling and terror groups, according to a State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks.

“In the area of money laundering, the USG (U.S. government) developed strong working relationships with the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and its companion unit in the Mexican Treasury (Hacienda) in combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and narcotics trafficking,” according to the cable, from the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela to the State Department. “In one case in late 2007, Mexican police worked with U.S. authorities to identify and arrest the alleged finance head for the Sinaloa drug cartel, targeting a ring that bought airplanes with laundered money to smuggle drugs.”

Another plane sold from St. Petersburg — a Cessna Conquest II — was part of an FBI investigation into international money laundering and drug smuggling, according to an FBI affidavit. The Cessna was sold as part of “a complex international money laundering scheme” to purchase airplanes for drug smuggling, according to an affidavit by FBI agent Michael Hoenigman. It was purchased from St. Petersburg-based Skyway Aircraft, FBI and FAA records state. It was to be used in transporting cocaine from Venezuela to Africa, according to the affidavit. That investigation was separate from any DEA investigations, the DEA has said.

Attorney Hunter Chamberlain, representing Larry Peters, who sold the Cessna, said Peters “doesn’t know anything” about the airplane being used by drug smugglers, Chamberlin said in a 2008 Tribune interview. “This is a guy who has a very small company. Whatever happens to these airplanes after Mr. Peters sells them, they enter the stream of commerce and that’s the last Larry Peters will see of the airplane.”

In an interview, Peters said he sold another plane that was seized by Guatemalan authorities after being used for smuggling.

Peters also has connections to the man whose company sold the plane that later crashed in Mexico. Through Atlantic Alcohol, a St. Petersburg-based company that tried to import ethanol from Brazil, Peters was a business partner of Joao Malago, who sold the Gulfstream II, according to Malago in a previous interview with the Tribune.

Both Malago and Peters have denied any connection to drug smugglers, and while Malago has been contacted by law enforcement, Peters was not.

In a 2007 Tribune interview, Malago, a Brazilian businessman who purchased the Gulfstream II in August 2007 for his Donna Blue Aircraft company, said he sold the 32-year-old twin-engine jet to a Fort Lauderdale-based pilot named Clyde O’Connor on Sept. 16. He emailed the Tribune an Aircraft Acceptance form he said contains O’Connor’s signature and that of a second man, Gregory Smith.

Malago, who bought the plane with partner Eduardo Dias Guimaraes, said he chose St. Pete-Clearwater “because I have a close friend who has a hangar, so the plane was just waiting for delivery.”

In telephone and email interviews from Brazil, Malago in 2007 said he sold the jet to O’Connor for $2 million. O’Connor and Smith, along with a pilot hired by Malago, flew the plane to Fort Lauderdale. Malago said O’Connor was going to use the plane to fly charters in Mexico.

O’Connor, Smith and Whittington did not return phone calls. Malago could not be reached for comment for this story.

Mayan Jaguar was likely a “win” for the government, said Robert Mazur, who spent five years undercover infiltrating the criminal hierarchy of Colombia’s drug cartels. His book, “The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside The Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel,” and the movie it inspired chronicle how drug money is laundered.

“If the name of game is to be able to take $2 million in cash out of the bad guys, give them a plane and let them use it so whatever they try to bring back into the country is seized, that is good,” said Mazur, president of Chase & Associates Inc., a Tampa-based forensic investigative services company, speaking in general terms because he has no direct knowledge of Mayan Jaguar. “Anytime you do anything to facilitate crime, whether selling planes, or laundering money for them, it really needs to be a strategically thought-out plan so that your collection of evidence far outweighs the facilitation of criminal activity.”


California Highway Patrol investigating hot air balloon BASE jumpers

Four people parachuted from a hot air balloon drifting high above west Santa Rosa early Tuesday, catching the attention of nearby CHP officers who now are investigating.

The jumpers apparently violated Federal Aviation Administration safety regulations, said CHP spokesman Officer Jon Sloat.

“You can parachute out of a balloon if you have proper equipment, a back-up chute and a sanctioned landing area,” said Sloat. “They had a single chute and (at least one) landed about 100 feet north of Highway 12 on private property.”

BASE jumping from balloon is a recreational hobby generating no end of online videos. More commonly base jumpers leap off of fixed areas, such as high cliffs, wearing trimmed-down parachutes.

At about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, two officers were at Highway 12 and Fulton Road, investigating a theft from Caltrans property there.

One of the officers looked up and caught the unexpected sight of a parachute in the sky.

“He was wondering where that came from when he sees a hot air balloon way up...then he sees a second person jump out of the balloon and then a third and a fourth,” said Sloat.

The base jumpers landed on private properties, a bit scattered in the semi-rural area.

Officers were able to reach one jumper, an Oregon man. Jonathan Entin, 46, of Bend, landed near Merced Avenue, not far from the highway.

The other three landed in a field and ran.

“Witnesses saw the other three hightailing it out of the area,” Sloat said.

Base jumping chutes are smaller than typical parachutes. A jumper can hit the ground, pack up and leave quickly.

Officers didn’t pursue the balloon, which drifted west toward Sebastopol where it disappeared into the fog.

Entin told the officers he didn’t know the name of the balloon company, said Sloat.

Officers are investigating any FAA violations and misdemeanor crimes involving safety. They’re also hoping to learn the name of the balloon company.

Story and Comments/Reaction: