Friday, January 6, 2017

Piper Arrow: Incident occurred January 06, 2017 at Illinois Valley Regional Airport (KVYS), Peru, LaSalle County, Illinois

A pilot had to make an emergency landing at the Illinois Valley Regional Airport on Friday night without his sense of sight.

No, the pilot was not blind, but inconvenient circumstances left him flying in the dark.

Joseph Cipolla had taken off from the Dekalb Taylor Municipal Airport to practice flying. Cipolla was just signed off to fly his plane, a single-engine Piper Arrow, yesterday. The relatively inexperienced pilot has 60 hours of flight under his belt, so when his engine spit jet fuel over the windshield, he was left in a predicament.

“I was very disoriented,” he said. “I couldn’t see where I was going and I got lost.

“I had to figure out how much oil I had left and I had to find where the next airfield was.”

Cipolla had to rely on his instruments to find his way. He said he made sure he had enough altitude and after about 45 minutes made his way over Peru’s airspace where he made his landing at about 6 p.m.

Peru police deputy chief Bob Pyszka said Peru police and fire departments responded as a precautionary measure after the plane landed.

No one was injured during the landing.

“I made it. I’m alive and I’m here to talk about it,” Cipolla said. “I’m thankful for so many more things than I’m unthankful for right now.”


Cessna 172M Skyhawk, Great Northern Aircraft Inc., N80374: Accident occurred January 06, 2017 at Hobart Sky Ranch Airport (3HO), Lake County, Indiana

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Great Northern Aircraft Inc:

FAA Flight Standards District Office: DUPAGE

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report  -   National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: CEN17LA082
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, January 06, 2017 in Hobart, IN
Aircraft: CESSNA 172M, registration: N80374
Injuries: 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On January 6, 2017, about 1305 central standard time (CST), a Cessna 172, N80374, departed the runway during an attempted landing at Hobart Sky Ranch Airport (3HO), Hobart, Indiana. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the left and right wings, and fuselage. The private pilot, and sole occupant onboard, was seriously injured. The airplane was registered to Great Northern Aircraft Inc, and was privately operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, and no instrument flight rules flight plan was filed.

Don Niemeyer helped rescue a pilot from a Cessna 172M Skyhawk that skidded off the runway of the Hobart Sky Ranch Airport Friday.

HOBART — Airport manager Don Niemeyer Sr. was sitting in his office Friday afternoon at the Hobart Sky Ranch Airport when he heard what sounded like the screeching of tires on the runway and an airplane nose-diving through a wooded area off U.S. 6.

“It sounded just like when you take your lawnmower through (shrubbery), that grinding noise,” said Niemeyer, the longtime manager of the small, privately owned airport just north of U.S. 6 and Lake Park Avenue. 

Niemeyer Sr. said he immediately called for his son, also named Don Niemeyer, to run to the pilot’s aid.

The airplane — a Cessna 172M Skyhawk, according to the Niemeyers — skidded off the runway at 1:06 p.m., and landed in a wooded area north of U.S. 6, said Hobart Fire Chief Brian Kerr.

A pilot was trapped inside the plane, but made it out with minor injuries, Kerr said.

“It’s always a good ending when you walk away from a plane crash,” Kerr said.

The younger Don Niemeyer said his father pulled him out of the office to tell him to go the crash site.  

The damaged airplane, visible from U.S. 6, appeared to have nosedived into the wooden area north of the roadway. The plane’s front-end was planted into the ground while the body of the plane rested against trees and shrubbery.

The pilot, who Niemeyer said was traveling from the Griffith-Merrillville Airport, is “lucky to be alive.”

“From the condition of the airplane, he’s very lucky. With the size of the trees that he came in contact with, he’s lucky,” Niemeyer said.

Niemeyer said Friday’s rescue was unfortunately not the first time he’s helped out at the scene of plane crash.

“I was basically born and raised here on this airport. I've been around aviation my whole life. So things happen when you’ve been around long enough,” he said.

The pilot’s name and age were not available Friday afternoon.

U.S. 6, or East 37th Avenue, remained shut down as of 2:45 p.m. between Wisconsin Street and Lake Park Avenue because of the accident.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said Federal Aviation Administration officials will be going to the crash site to investigate.

“When they go to the scene, they often do an assessment of the damage, take photos and provide that to investigators,” Knudson said.

It is undetermined if NTSB will open its own investigation, he said, noting there are many factors to take into consideration — including the seriousness of injuries or plane damage.

A spokesperson with the FAA was unable to be reached for comment Friday.  

Lake Station, New Chicago, Hobart police officers and Hobart fire officials responded to the scene. 


An unnamed pilot was transported to St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart with minor injuries Friday afternoon after skidding off the runway at Hobart Sky Ranch Airport in Hobart and crashing in the wooded area just north of 37th Avenue, police said.

Hobart Fire Chief Brian Kerr said the incident occurred about 1:05 p.m. Don Niemeyer, owner of the Hobart Sky Ranch Airport, 3700 N. Lake Park Ave., could not be reached for comment Friday.

Kerr said the pilot, whose name was not released, was alone in the single-engine aircraft.

He said the pilot had to be extricated from the plane, but appeared to have suffered only minor injuries.

A man in the airport office said the pilot was experienced.

"He had a couple hundred hours in," he said.

Police closed 37th Avenue from South Lake Park Avenue to Wisconsin Street while police and fire crews worked around the crash scene.

Lake Station Police Chief Dave Johnson said there was gasoline leaking from the plane.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration registry, the plane, a Cessna fixed-wing single engine, is owned by Great Northern Aircraft Inc. in Griffith.

A voicemail left at the airplane sales company was not immediately returned.

Johnson said Hobart Fire Department, and Hobart, Lake Station and New Chicago police responded to the accident after receiving a 911 call of a plane crash by the airport.

"In the 20 years I've been working here I don't remember another plane crash at that airport," Kerr said.


AMD CH-2000 Alarus, N683AM: Accident occurred January 05, 2017 at Cobb County International Airport-McCollum Field (KRYY), Atlanta, Georgia

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

FAA Flight Standards District Office: ATLANTA

NTSB Identification: ERA17LA078
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, January 05, 2017 in Atlanta, GA
Aircraft: AIRCRAFT MFG & DEVELOPMENT CO CH 2000, registration: N683AM
Injuries: 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On January 5, 2017, about 1700 eastern standard time, an Aircraft MFG & Development Co, CH 2000, N683AM, was substantially damaged during a collision with trees, during the initial climb after takeoff from Cobb County International Airport (RYY), Atlanta, Georgia. The private pilot was seriously injured. The airplane was operated by the private pilot as a personal flight conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the planned local flight.

The pilot reported that he had planned to perform some touch-and-go landings at RYY. During initial takeoff on runway 27, he applied full power and initiated a climb at the appropriate airspeed. Upon reaching a low altitude, the airplane experienced a loss of engine power and climb performance. The left wing and nose dropped, but no stall warning horn sounded. The pilot leveled the wings and configured the airplane quickly for landing, before colliding with trees.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration inspector, air traffic control personnel observed the airplane about 200 feet above ground level as it was approximately 900 feet from the beginning of runway 27. The airplane then drifted left, descended, and impacted trees. The airplane came to rest in a wooded area south of runway 27, about 1,400 feet from the beginning of the runway. The inspector examined the wreckage at the accident site and noted that during the impact, the airplane suffered damage to both wings and the fuselage. The inspector observed the flaps in the full-extended position. He also found an airplane operating handbook in the cockpit and observed that it was open to a page describing short field takeoffs and landings. He further stated that due to impact damage, some fuel had leaked from the airplane.

The wreckage was retained for further examination.

The recorded wind at RYY, at 1647, was from 300 degrees at 3 knots.

Beech M35 Bonanza, N9817R: Incident occurred January 05, 2017 in Helena, Montana

FAA Flight Standards District Office: HELENA


Date: 05-JAN-17
Time: 23:20:00Z
Regis#: N9817R
Aircraft Make: BEECH
Aircraft Model: BE35
Event Type: INCIDENT
Highest Injury: NONE
Aircraft Missing: No
Damage: MINOR
Activity: PERSONAL
Flight Phase: LANDING (LDG)
Operation: 91

Ameriflight, Swearingen SW4: Incident occurred January 05, 2017 in San Angelo, Texas

FAA Flight Standards District Office: LUBBOCK


Date: 06-JAN-17
Time: 01:54:00Z
Regis#: NXXXXX
Aircraft Make: SWEARINGEN
Aircraft Model: SW4
Event Type: INCIDENT
Highest Injury: UNKNOWN
Aircraft Missing: No
Damage: MINOR
Flight Phase: TAKEOFF (TOF)
Operation: 135
Aircraft Operator: AMERIFLIGHT
Flight Number: 1691
State: TEXAS

Building a city-owned hangar at the Searcy Municipal Airport will be a priority of the Searcy Airport Commission

The commission voted to make it a priority, over other options such as new taxiway lights, to the Federal Aviation Administration's five-year capital improvement plan, being prepared by Miller-Newell Engineers Inc. before the Jan. 15 deadline.

"The airport has grant assurance that we have to abide by to receive federal FAA funds. The FAA wants the airport to strive for self-sufficiency," Manager Roger Pearson said. "Having a city-owned hangar is a way to help enhance revenue receipts and up services to make our airport more marketable.

"It is the desired priority over other options to spend the FAA funds on, as opposed to new taxiway lights. ”¦We have the airport in really good shape and now is about the only time we would be able to get the FAA to pay for the hangar."

According to Pearson, the city has one of two grants available to use to improve the airport.

Bob Chatman, the civil engineer for Miller-Newell Engineers Inc. in Newport who is the Searcy Municipal Airport's contracted engineer, gave the commission an update on the FAA 90-10 grant project as follows:

A grant application for additional erosion control work and lens placement for the guidance sign has been approved, Chatman said. Plans for erosion control work are almost complete. It is anticipated the commission will begin receiving bids mid-February. The documents for ordering the sign lens is nearly complete.

The 90-10 grant project splits 90 percent as $222,222 and the other 10 percent as $22,222.

The airport commission also selected a new chairman and vice-chairman at its Tuesday meeting.

Matt House was voted chairman Tuesday, replacing retired Chairman Lee Biggs. House is a loan officer at First Community Bank. Voted vice-chairman was Adam Hart, an industrial contractor and an owner of Hart Cone Construction.

In other business, the commission discussed:

• The transition between credit card software platforms. The airport is transitioning to My Flight Solutions as the fixed base operator, a retail firm that sells general aviation products or services at an airport. The current provider is being replaced and will no longer be supported. The transition could be in place by the end of January.

"It will take a long time to repopulate all the credit cards in the current system," Pearson said.

• Refunding $500 to the Edmonds Aviation fuel bill. Edmonds Aviation had paid a deposit in 2014 to build a hangar, and for multiple reasons it was not built. The commission decided to refund the $500 and examine the current application and lease regarding hangar requests to make sure there is a set period of time in which a deposit is refundable. This will avoid a "records nightmare," Airport Commissioner Jay Moore said.

• Some pilots' concerns regarding new target lane markings that the new markings, running between the north and south on the west side of the hangars, do not provide safe clearance. While the lines are within FAA regulations, an additional mark is being considered that can be considered to provide a wider buffer to further enhance safety.

Chatman said he is looking into the feasibility of adding this extra buffer. The concern is that pilots are parking up to the current line, and sometimes that causes congestion and/or a more tight fit between parked airplanes.

Searcy Airport Commission

What: Makes building city-owned hangar priority

For: FAA's five-year capital improvement plan

When: Plan due January 15


Plane-makers face sales downturn: Signs of market weakness bad news for Boeing, Airbus in 2017

Boeing Co. Dreamliner 787 planes sit on the production line at the company’s final-assembly plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, in December.

The jetliner shopping spree that's spanned more than a decade is drawing to a close, according to sales data and industry analysts.

That's bad news for Boeing Co. and Airbus Group SE, which face the highest level of airplane-delivery deferrals in at least 15 years. Final 2016 tallies to be unveiled over the next few days probably will show aircraft orders trailing shipments, a sign of a weakening market. Airline profits are poised to fall from last year's peak, with even Persian Gulf giants Emirates and Etihad Airways PJSC tempering growth.

Unlike past sale slowdowns, triggered by terrorism or recession, demand also has been hurt by the relatively low cost of fuel. While oil has risen in the past year, prices are hovering at about $50 a barrel, half of what they were in mid-2014. That gives airlines less incentive to retire older jetliners or order newer, more efficient models.

The glut of jets is sapping interest in wide-body planes and threatening production increases that Boeing and Airbus have plotted over the next two years for the lucrative 737 and A320 families of single-aisle aircraft. With last week's revelation that Emirates is postponing a dozen Airbus A380 superjumbos, the number of delivery delays for the year reached 251, the most since at least 2001, according to Flight Fleets Analyzer data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence.

"It's not that the sky is falling, but we are definitely late in the cycle," said Ron Epstein, an analyst at Bank of America Corp.

So far, plane-makers have been able to find other takers for production slots that have been vacated as carriers such as United Continental Holdings Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. postpone deliveries and scan the secondary market for bargains.

"The real question becomes how long are they able to do that for," Epstein said during a presentation last month.

Nobody knows how steep the downturn will be or how long it will last, and the trade war with China threatened by President-elect Donald Trump only adds to the uncertainty. In contrast to previous slowdowns, global air travel is still growing and airlines are mostly making money, providing assurance they'll follow through on the bulk of their orders.

Airbus and Boeing are sitting on a near-record $1.2 trillion order backlog, and to some extent are victims of their own success. Airlines aren't racing to close deals for jetliner models that are sold out for the rest of the decade, such as Airbus' A350 and Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. As the second-largest U.S. defense contractor, Chicago-based Boeing has an added cushion: Weapons sales seem likely to increase because Trump has vowed to increase military budgets, even as he's railed against costs.

There are signs, however, that the aerospace cycle has peaked. Global airline profit this year is forecast to fall 16 percent to $29.8 billion from 2016's apex, according to the International Air Transport Association, an industry trade group. Another indicator of the aircraft manufacturing's health, a measure of sales to shipments known as the book-to-bill ratio, is expected fall to the weakest level since the 2009 recession, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Boeing had netted 470 orders through Dec. 20, well short of its targeted deliveries of 740 to 745 planes for the year. Airbus reported 410 net orders through November. The European plane-maker had been aiming to deliver 670 jetliners in 2016, 20 more than it forecast at the start of the year. The annual totals don't include sales to Iran or deals closed late in December, including an order for 75 Boeing 737 Max aircraft placed by General Electric Co.'s aircraft leasing division.

Spokesmen for Boeing and Airbus declined to comment.

Airbus shares gained only 1.4 percent last year after surging 50 percent in 2015. Boeing climbed 7.7 percent, trailing the S&P 500 index.

The market is also absorbing a glut of twin-aisle jets after output increased at a 16 percent annual pace from 2011 through 2015, said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at Teal Group. Last month, Boeing announced a second cut in the production rate of its 777 jetliner during a sales drought, while Airbus' A330neo orders have stalled, he said.

About 18,070 passenger planes were in service as of November, a 41 percent jump from 2007, according to a Dec. 19 report by Deutsche Bank AG. Only 6.6 percent of the global fleet was in storage, down from 8.3 percent in November 2007.

"It's different manifestations of the same problem," Aboulafia said. "With twin-aisles, it's demand. With single-aisles, it's fuel."


Rockwell Turbo Commander-690B, N690WT: Michigan aircraft purchase shows kingpin El Chapo’s reach

The judge and his staff drooled over the plane. “We looked at pictures,” the judge said. “We want to take it for a ride.”

The Commander airplane was sold by a Michigan company in 2014 for $940,000.
(Photo: Department of Homeland Security)

Detroit — Notorious drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s cartel bought a luxury airplane from a Michigan company, but federal agents intercepted the plane before the pilot flew to Mexico, The Detroit News has learned.

The revelation was recently disclosed in a federal court filing obtained by The News that chronicles international intrigue surrounding an airplane involved in a money-laundering caper stretching from a rural Monroe County town to Guadalajara, Mexico.

The case involves the most valuable piece of property ever seized by the Justice Department in Detroit, millions of dollars’ worth of allegedly laundered drug money, playboy narcotics dealers and a businessman who helped broker the airplane deal while trying to raise money for his wife’s fertility treatments, according to his lawyer.

Increased law enforcement and demand for fast, expensive planes that can haul drug kingpins and narcotics are forcing the Sinaloa cartel and others to shop farther away from states along the Mexican border and into the Midwest, experts say.

The case illustrates the inner-workings of the notorious Sinaloa cartel and shows that Mexican drug dealers are not merely selling narcotics in southeast Michigan, they’re shopping, too.

Feds seized this Rockwell Turbo Commander-690B two years ago in Texas. 
(Photo: R.A. Swick & Associates)

Federal drug agents seized the turbo prop Rockwell International Commander 690B two years ago in Texas and nobody tried to get it back.

“Nobody wants the plane except for the government?” U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman asked a federal prosecutor during a recent hearing in Detroit.

“What’s it worth?” the judge asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Kuebler.

“Almost a million dollars,” the prosecutor said.

“Really?” the judge said.

Notorious drug kingpin

In this Jan. 8, 2016 file photo, a handcuffed Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is made to face the press as he is escorted to a helicopter by Mexican soldiers and marines at a federal hangar in Mexico City. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced Guzman was recaptured six months after escaping from a maximum security prison. 

The investigation dates to 2012 and was focused on “El Chapo’s” cartel.

At the time, El Chapo was the fugitive head of the Sinaloa cartel, the world’s most powerful drug ring. El Chapo and his cartel were believed to have access to billions of dollars and sold cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine in approximately 54 countries.

El Chapo escaped a Mexican prison in 2001 and had been a fugitive for 11 years when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration launched an investigation that would eventually lead to Metro Detroit.

The cartel has deep ties to Metro Detroit.

From 2008-12, a branch of the Sinaloa cartel was importing up to 660 pounds of cocaine into Metro Detroit every month, federal prosecutors said.

Drug shipments typically entered the U.S. at the Mexican border in Arizona before being driven to Michigan. Members met at a warehouse in Wyandotte where the cocaine was unloaded and distributed, according to court records.

Drug ties in Metro Detroit

The cartel used an unlikely tool to avoid detection in Metro Detroit: Leo Earl Sharp, an 87-year-old drug mule from Michigan City, Indiana.

Sharp was arrested in October 2011 while trying to deliver 228 pounds of cocaine hidden in the back of his pickup.

“Just kill me and let me leave this planet,” Sharp said after a Michigan State Police trooper found drugs in the man’s truck.

The cartel relied on more powerful forms of transportation in Mexico.

El Chapo’s cartel had the largest air fleet in Mexico, larger than Aeromexico, the nation’s largest airline.

The cartel’s fleet served a network of 4,771 hidden airstrips lacing Mexico’s mountainous northern states.

From 2006 to 2015, Mexican military authorities seized 599 aircraft from the cartel, according to the newspaper El Universal. That fleet is almost five times the size of Aeromexico.

One drug run can pay for a fleet of planes.

Drug rings the size of Sinaloa can buy a plane for $1 million, load and deliver $10 million worth of cocaine and then torch the aircraft.

“Typically, a cartel or a drug-trafficking organization would employ small aircraft ... to facilitate the movement of their product ... or themselves,” Patrick Curran, a DEA special agent involved in the Torres investigation, testified during a court hearing. “High-level cartel members are typically fugitives. They can’t travel via commercial aircraft like you or I could, or by other legitimate means.”

The plane was sold in May 2014 for $940,000. It is now in the feds’ hands. (Photo: Department of Homeland Security) 

Feds focus on sons

El Chapo’s sons were more closely involved in buying airplanes in the Midwest, prosecutors alleged.  

Sons Ivan and Jesus Alfredo Guzman are known for flaunting their wealth and playboy lifestyles on Twitter and Instagram, posting photos of bikini-clad women, pet tigers, bikini-clad women with pet tigers, stacks of cash, a Ferrari with a gold-plated AK-47 propped against the dashboard and private planes.

In November 2012, more than a year after Sharp’s arrest, federal agents started intercepting the Guzman brothers’ electronic communications, court records show.

The investigation soon led to an email account used by a Sinaloa cartel lieutenant who worked for El Chapo’s sons. The lieutenant used the alias “Roco Loco.”

Fake name, real riches

In December 2012, agents learned Roco Loco and El Chapo’s sons allegedly were conspiring to launder more than $300,000 in drug proceeds, prosecutors allege.

The money was being spent on a 1982 Cessna Turbo 210 registered to a company near Cincinnati, Ohio.

The cartel used a middleman to negotiate and buy the plane, prosecutors said.

The middleman, Jorge Martin Torres, is described in federal court records as a high-level money laundering associate working for a cell of the Sinaloa Cartel. The cell was led by El Chapo’s sons, according to court records.

Torres, 40, lived in Mexico and traveled to the U.S. on a tourist visa, acquiring vehicles, properties and businesses for a range of clients.

“The inventory is millions of dollars. Lamborghinis, Maseratis, multiple BMWs, Mercedes...Porsches,” Curran, the DEA special agent, testified during an earlier court hearing. “Very high-end luxury cars.”

Torres was helping the cartel while trying to raise money to pay for his wife’s fertility treatments, his lawyer Albert Flores wrote in a court filing.

“They were desperately trying to complete a trial of expensive fertility treatments that would possibly allow them to conceive,” Flores wrote. “Money motivations to justify criminal activity under most circumstances are not unique.”

Emails monitored by federal agents showed Torres was involved in buying the Cessna in Ohio. One email from his account included an international wire transfer receipt showing payment from a bank account belonging to a company, Gasoestacion Ecologica, located near Guadalajara, Mexico.

“...Torres uses a network of money couriers/launderers who transfer drug proceeds through multiple means, including structured bank deposits, bulk cash smuggling and international wires, to obfuscate the source and origin of the funds,” DEA Special Agent Emilia Fernandez wrote in a court filing. “These funds are then used to purchase items, including airplanes, cars, high-end watches and other items.

The big-ticket items were purchased through straw buyers and, in the Cessna’s case, transported to Mexico.

In general, only U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens are allowed to own aircraft registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. Individuals often use fake names, aliases or straw buyers to acquire and register aircraft involved in illegal activity or hide the true owner’s identity, according to the Justice Department.

The Rockwell Turbo Commander-690B interior features a “potty” seat and mahogany tables and trim. (Photo: R.A. Swick & Associates)

Trail leads to Michigan

When the cartel bought the Cessna in late 2012, El Chapo had been a fugitive for 11 years.

El Chapo escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001 and hid from authorities until being caught by Mexican marines in February 2014 in the coastal city of Mazatlan.

El Chapo’s capture didn’t crimp the cartel’s air demands.

In 2014, the cartel went plane shopping in Metro Detroit. Simultaneously, the Department of Homeland Security went fishing.

In early 2014, used airplane salesman Rick Swick got a surprise phone call at his office in Lambertville, an hour southwest of Detroit, near Monroe.

The caller was a Homeland Security agent, warning Swick that Mexican nationals increasingly were shopping for airplanes in the Midwest.

“Because if they tried to buy airplanes in south Florida, it’s easier for there to be a red flag,” Swick said he was told.

The Homeland Security agent told Swick to call if there was ever a suspicious deal. Two weeks later, in spring 2014, Swick called the federal agent.

“I told him ‘you’re not going to believe this,’ ” Swick said.

‘Just magnificent’

Swick told agents he was contacted by a Mexican national interested in buying one of his used airplanes, a 1978 Rockwell International Commander 690B. The plane was advertised on the company’s website and on aviation industry websites.

Swick was selling the airplane on behalf of Quarry Services, a Montana mining and hauling company.

Quarry used the plane to oversee operations in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, general manager Sam Buchanan said in an interview.

“It was a nice plane, as planes go,” Buchanan said. “We used it quite a bit when the oil business was doing really well, but we didn’t need it, nor could we afford it, after a while.”

The airplane — painted “Matterhorn White” and “Ming Blue” — with tan leather seats and wall-to-wall carpet, was overhauled with updated avionics and could top 300 mph, Swick said.

The propellers are mounted high on the plane’s wings, making the Commander ideal for landing on unpaved airstrips in rural outposts.

“For an older turbo prop,” Swick said, “it was just magnificent.

“It’s a really good airplane if you’re wanting to smuggle things out of a backwoods, short runway,” Swick added.

The sales pitch — “Simply the nicest...Commander available in the world!” — reached an interested buyer in Mexico.

The prospective buyer’s name sounded familiar to federal agents.

It was Roco Loco, the alias used by the Sinaloa cartel lieutenant involved in the Cessna plane purchased in Ohio two years earlier.

“He seemed pretty knowledgeable. Roco would email me, but I could never get him on the phone,” Swick said. “A question would come up and he’d say ‘I have a guy in the U.S. that handles all of this. Handle it with Wolf.”

That’s Wolf Hofman, who runs an air freight company in Laredo, Texas, a town along the Mexico border.

“Hofman is well known to members of law enforcement as being suspected in multiple illegal activities, including involvement with Mexican drug-trafficking organizations,” Kuebler, the federal prosecutor, wrote in a court filing.

Hofman has not been charged with a crime. He could not be reached for comment.

Digital breadcrumbs

There were other figures hiding in the background, however, who would lead to El Chapo’s cartel and family tree.

In February 2014, federal agents seized $675,851 during an ongoing drug investigation centered in Illinois. The investigation already had netted millions of dollars of drug proceeds thanks, in part, to wiretaps.

The investigation led DEA agents to Torres, the Mexican businessman who helped the cartel acquire the Cessna airplane in Ohio, according to court records.

Torres was helping the cartel buy the Commander airplane by relaying wire transfers and other documents, prosecutors said. He used his cellphone to exchange emails and text messages with a cartel lieutenant, leaving a digital breadcrumb trail for investigators to follow, prosecutors allege.

Torres coordinated payments from cartel front companies, including more than $233,000 in wire transfers in April and May 2014, according to court records.

One $76,511 wire transfer came from Gasoestacion Ecologica, the same Mexican company linked to the Cessna in Ohio, according to court records.

The cartel’s interest in the Michigan airplane surprised Swick. The Commander, with its updated avionics and powerful engine, was larger and nicer than the typical cartel airplane, he said.

“Usually, they buy s---,” Swick said.

The Commander likely was not intended to smuggle drugs, Swick recalls being told by the Homeland Security agent.

“(The agent) said this was going to be for executive transportation for upper-end members,” Swick said.

Lone Star state

The sale closed in May 2014 for $940,000 and the Commander was flown to a company operating at San Antonio International Airport in Texas.

Agents seized the Commander on May 12, 2014, before the plane could be flown to Mexico.

Federal agents allowed Quarry Services to be paid for the plane and Swick received his commission. The government kept the plane.

It is rare for federal agents to seize airplanes worth as much as the Commander. Nine airplanes worth at least $1 million have been seized by the U.S. government since 2011.

All were from states bordering or near Mexico, except for a $1.4 million plane seized last year in Anchorage, Alaska, according to Justice Department records.

Torres, the Mexican middleman accused of helping the cartel acquire both airplanes, was arrested after flying into San Antonio for vacation in October 2014, five months after the Commander was seized by agents.

El Chapo, meanwhile, escaped from a maximum-security Mexican prison in July 2015, fleeing through a tunnel built under his shower stall.

He was a fugitive for six months before being recaptured in January 2016.

Torres, meanwhile, was charged for his role in helping the cartel acquire the Cessna in Ohio and sentenced in November to 44 months in federal prison.

Last month, the Commander airplane was forfeited to the government and likely will be sold.

“Significant seizures like this one deal a blow to criminal organizations by cutting off potential transportation modes that support a wide range of criminal activity,” Steve Francis, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Detroit, said in a statement. “The vast majority of proceeds from these seizures go right back into the community to counter criminal activity.”

Before he ordered the plane forfeited to the government last month, Friedman wanted to know where prosecutors had stashed the plane.

Prosecutors dodged the question and the hearing ended within minutes after the judge and his staff drooled over the plane.

“We looked at pictures,” the judge said. “We want to take it for a ride.”

Story, photo gallery and comments:

Man accused of biting during Hawaii flight gets probation

HONOLULU (AP) - A man accused of biting a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant during a July flight from American Samoa to Hawaii was sentenced to three years of probation Thursday for interfering with a flight crew.

Aumoeualogo Agaaoa Togia pleaded guilty in September in exchange for dismissal of an assault charge.

Togia drank alcohol before and during the nonstop flight from Pago Pago to Honolulu, according to his plea agreement. Halfway into the flight, he refused to take his seat when the seat belt light turned on and became verbally and physically abusive - punching the bathroom door and threating to kill flight attendants, the court document said.

"Of course, we always have to see this in the background of Sept. 11 and terrorism," said U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi, noting that Togia's behavior forced the cockpit into a lockdown. "You certainly created terror and fear" among passengers and crew members.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Nammar said Togia bit the hand of a flight attendant. After the hearing, Nammar noted that an earlier court document misidentified the flight attendant as a different type of worker.

While in a holding cell at Honolulu International Airport, Togia told an FBI agent he fought back after being "ambushed," that he "might have blacked out" and didn't remember what happened.

Togia has a history of alcohol and marijuana abuse, Kobayashi said.

"I know my behavior was uncalled for," Togia said in court. He turned around to the courtroom gallery and apologized to his mother, siblings, friends and three children watching the proceeding.

Kobayashi said she concludes that his behavior wasn't typical for him. While on probation, he'll be subject to certain conditions including drug testing. Kobayashi said she has a "high degree of confidence" he won't violate terms of his probation.