!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Daniel Pursell
Daniel Pursell was a participant or observer in the following events:
Huffman Aviation logo. [Source: Huffman Aviation]9/11 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Mohamed Atta attend Huffman Aviation, a flight school in Venice, Florida and enroll in its Accelerated Pilot Program, aiming to get commercial pilot licenses. According to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, Atta already has a private pilot’s license—though where and how he gained this is unstated—and wants to obtain a commercial license. Alshehhi wants to obtain both licenses. They begin their training in a Cessna 172 with instructor Thierry Leklou. According to the 9/11 Commission, by the end of July both are already taking solo flights. However, in August Leklou complains to Chief Flight Instructor Daniel Pursell that the two are failing to follow instructions and have bad attitudes. Pursell considers expelling them, but, according to Dekkers, after a warning they improve their behavior and continue without further problems. [US Congress, 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224, 227; St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] Yet Pursell later testifies that the school’s instructors breathed “a collective sigh of relief” when the two left Huffman. [Associated Press, 3/23/2006] Furthermore, reportedly, “Atta and al-Shehhi would rent a plane from Huffman and be gone for days at a time, Pursell said. They could fly to 20 airports across the state and never be noticed.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] Mark Mikarts, another of the school’s instructors, says Atta has “big problems with authority,” and doesn’t take instructions well. [Wall Street Journal, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 17 ] Susan Hall, Huffman’s office manager, refers to Atta as “the little terrorist” while he is at the school, because, she later says, “I just didn’t like the aura he gave off.” [Reuters, 3/22/2006] In the middle of their training, in late September, Atta and Alshehhi enroll at another flight school, in nearby Sarasota. However, they are soon asked to leave it, and return to Huffman in October (see Late September-Early October 2000). While Atta and Alshehhi attend Huffman Aviation, another of the alleged hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, is taking lessons at a flight school just down the road from them (see (June 28-December 2000)). Yet no reports describe the three ever meeting up while they are all in Venice. According to official accounts, Atta and Alshehhi complete their schooling at Huffman on December 19, 2000, when they take their commercial pilot license tests. Rudi Dekkers says that after returning to the school to settle their bills, they leave and are never seen there again. [US Congress, 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 17 ] Yet Daniel Pursell will later allege that early in 2001 the two are still connected with Huffman, being reported to the school for practicing nighttime landings in one of its planes at another Florida airport (see Between January and February 2001).
Clearwater Airpark. [Source: Douglas R. Clifford / St. Petersburg Times]9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi reportedly spend at least 30 minutes practicing landing a single-engine plane at Clearwater Airpark, Florida, after it has closed for the night. This is according to Daniel Pursell, the chief instructor at Huffman Aviation, the Venice flight school attended by the two during the latter half of 2000 (see July 6-December 19, 2000). What they are doing at Clearwater is unknown. Their activities draw the attention of a police aide acting as a night watchman, who leaves a voice message at Huffman complaining about the incident. The plane is subsequently identified as having been rented by Atta and Alshehhi. Pursell, along with fellow instructor Thierry Leklou, reprimands them when they return to Venice the following morning. According to the St. Petersburg Times, the two leave Huffman shortly afterwards. This incident first surfaces publicly in 2006, when Pursell testifies at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. However, others will dispute his allegations. Local police say no incident reports were filed describing the event, and neither the FAA nor city have any record of unauthorized landings during this period. According to Bill Morris, Clearwater’s marine and aviation director, a police aide would have called for backup and recorded the plane’s details in a log, rather than calling Huffman. He says even if the aide had wanted to contact the plane’s owner, it would have been impossible to ascertain who this was at night, as allegedly occurred, because the FAA’s offices would have been closed. [CNN, 3/23/2006; St. Petersburg Times, 3/30/2006; Clearwater Citizen, 4/6/2006] Furthermore, Atta and Alshehhi supposedly finished training at Huffman Aviation in December 2000, and the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers will claim Huffman last heard from them around the end of that month. [US Congress, 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 17 ] However, a similar incident to this is known to have occurred previously, where Atta and Alshehhi abandoned one of Huffman’s planes at Miami International Airport (see December 26, 2000). [CNN, 3/23/2006] And according to the 9/11 Commission, after passing their instrument rating airplane tests on November 6, 2000, the pair was “able to sign out planes. They did so on a number of occasions, often returning at 2:00 and 3:00 A.M. after logging four or five hours of flying time.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 15 ] The St. Petersburg Times reports that Atta and Alshehhi “would rent a plane from Huffman and be gone for days at a time, Pursell said. They could fly to 20 airports across the state and never be noticed.” [St. Petersburg Times, 3/30/2006]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.