Profile: Huffman Aviation
Huffman Aviation was a participant or observer in the following events:
Huffman Aviation. [Source: FBI]Huffman Aviation, the Venice, Florida flight school later attended by Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi (see July 1-3, 2000) is sold to Naples-based flight school Ambassador Airways, which is owned by Wally Hilliard and Rudi Dekkers. Although Hilliard finances the purchase, Dekkers becomes the sole stockholder. Dekkers is a Dutch national with a highly questionable past. The St. Petersburg Times will later comment, he “seems to have benefited from the same type of casual scrutiny of visa applicants that let the 9/11 hijackers live and train here [in the US].” Even before 9/11, he has “a long history of troubled businesses, run-ins with the Federal Aviation Administration and numerous lawsuits… It is the kind of checkered history, experts say, that should have raised questions both before and after the 9/11 attacks about Dekkers’ fitness to run a school that trained pilots.” Having previously run a computer company in the Netherlands that went bankrupt, he’d moved to Naples, Florida in 1992. After running a computer chip exporting company, he’d started Ambassador Airways. Yet he’d been so late on some of his bills there that at one point the Naples airport refused to sell him aviation fuel, even if he paid cash. At some point in 1999 the FAA revoked his pilot’s license for 45 days—a severe penalty—for several violations, including “operating an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner.” In spite of Dekkers’ dubious history and the fact that his Ambassador Airways is struggling, Wally Hilliard, a prominent retired businessman, loans him $1.7 million to buy Huffman Aviation. Dekkers says he plans spending $60,000 per year promoting the school, advertising extensively in Germany and other European countries. [Venice Gondolier Sun, 5/29/1999; Venice Gondolier Sun, 1/25/2003; St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] Huffman Aviation is just up the road from Florida Flight Training Center, where Ziad Jarrah, the alleged pilot of Flight 93, will begin flying lessons in summer 2000 (see (June 28-December 2000)). [Associated Press, 9/9/2002] Dekkers will close Ambassador Airways in December 2001, due to financial difficulties, and sell Huffman Aviation in January 2003. [Naples Daily News, 1/25/2003; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 1/28/2003]
Rudi Dekkers. [Source: Peter Muhly / Agence France-Presse]9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi move from New York to Venice, Florida. [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/16/2001] They arrive at Huffman Aviation, a flying school at Venice Municipal Airport, on July 1, according to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, inquiring about taking lessons there. They are reported to also check out a flight school in Oklahoma at the beginning of this month (see July 2-3, 2000). They then return to Huffman—on July 3 according the Dekkers—and begin flight instruction, subsequently enrolling in the school’s Accelerated Pilot Program. When they register at the school, Atta and Alshehhi use their real names. Dekkers later states that they say they are unhappy with a flying school they attended up north, though he gives no details about the identity of this school. It will later be claimed that Atta and Alshehhi attended a flight school in Punta Gorda before moving to Venice (see Before July 2000). However, Punta Gorda is south, not north, of Venice. Paying by check, Atta will give $18,703.50 in total for his lessons, while Alshehhi gives $20,917.63. The money necessary to cover their training is sent to them in a series of transfers from Dubai (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000). [Washington Post, 9/19/2001; Washington Post, 9/30/2001; US Congress, 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224; St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] Huffman’s owner Rudi Dekkers has what the St. Petersburg Times will describe as “a long history of troubled businesses, run-ins with the Federal Aviation Administration and numerous lawsuits.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] After 9/11 he will face even more lawsuits (see August 23, 2001-April 2004).
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).
Marwan Alshehhi. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]At Huffman Aviation flying school, 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi pass various pilots’ tests. On August 14, 2000, according to the 9/11 Commission, they pass their private pilot airplane tests, with Atta scoring 97 out of 100 and Alshehhi scoring 83. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 12 ] However, Huffman’s owner Rudi Dekkers will later testify before Congress that Atta already had a private pilot’s license when he first arrived at the school, six weeks previously (see July 1-3, 2000). [US Congress, 3/19/2002] Despite having failed their Stage I exam for instruments rating at nearby Jones Aviation a month earlier (see Late September-Early October 2000), on November 6 Atta and Alshehhi pass their instrument rating airplane tests at Huffman, scoring 90 and 75 respectively. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 15 ] On December 19 they pass their commercial pilot license tests, thus completing their training, with Atta scoring 93 and Alshehhi scoring 73. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 17 ] (According to a 2005 Federal Aviation Administration factsheet, the passing score for all the pilot tests Atta and Alshehhi take is 70. Presumably this is also the case in 2000. [Administration, 3/2005 ] ) Yet one fellow student who witnesses the pair at Huffman on an almost daily basis later states that, while he always accompanied Atta during his flying lessons, she never saw Alshehhi at the controls of the training aircraft. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/18/2001] Rudi Dekkers will state, “I have heard from the instructors that they were average students, the examiner told me the same.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/21/2001] The local FAA designated examiner Dave Whitman is responsible for testing Atta and Alshehhi. He issues them temporary 120-day licenses allowing them to fly small, twin-engine planes. He will later say he assumes the FAA made their licenses permanent, as he was not notified otherwise. He says, “I don’t even remember them, specifically. They were foreign students, and foreign students often tend to keep to themselves.” [USA Today, 9/13/2001; Chicago Sun-Times, 9/16/2001; US Congress, 3/19/2002]
Anne Greaves. [Source: History Channel]While they attend Huffman Aviation flying school in Venice, Florida, future 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi use the same training airplane as Anne Greaves, a 56-year-old Briton. Greaves will later say she sees Atta and Alshehhi on an almost daily basis over roughly six weeks.
Mohamed Atta Seen as Saudi Prince - Greaves will say that she finds it odd to find two Arabs in the quiet, retirement town of Venice, so she asks her flight instructor about them one day, and is told Atta is Saudi royalty and Alshehhi is his bodyguard. She will recall: “I remember thinking at the time I found this very strange because normally royalty learn at military establishments for security reasons alone. And also royalty I remember remarking usually had manners and I felt these these two certainly didn’t have any manners.” Asked if others at Huffman Aviation also thought Atta was some kind of prince, Greaves will comment, “It was my impression that was generally believed because it was my instructor who told me this at the time so I had the impression that that was generally believed, yes.” Whereas Alshehhi dresses casually, Greaves sees Atta “always very formally dressed… always neatly pressed trousers of a wool type. A shirt and a waistcoat to match the trousers.” This is in spite of the “extremely hot” weather. [Associated Press, 9/24/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/18/2001] Yet Rudi Dekkers, the school’s owner, will later claim the two only said they were cousins from Germany. [USA Today, 9/13/2001] (Atta and Alshehhi are in fact unrelated.) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 160-162]
Atta Given Preference - Greaves will recall, “I was really a little bit jealous in that they were always given preference with one of the Warriors which was a much newer, much neater aircraft.” She will also comment that for Atta “to have progressed as rapidly as he seemed to have done at Huffman he must have had flying skills before he came to Huffman Aviation.” (This fits with claims made by Rudi Dekkers, that Atta already had a private pilot’s license when he first arrived at the school (see July 6-December 19, 2000).)
Alshehhi Never Practices Flying - However, though the pair always flies together, she says: “I never saw Alshehhi take the controls of the aircraft. It was always Mohamed Atta.” [Associated Press, 9/24/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/18/2001; US Congress, 3/19/2002]
Excited about the Cole Bombing? - The only time Greaves sees Atta and Alshehhi show any enthusiasm is around the “middle end of October” or “possibly early in November,” when they have been busy on the Internet in the school’s computer room. She sees them “hugging each other with joy and almost dancing in the room.” Several reports will later speculate that this celebrating is in response to the al-Qaeda bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), though Greaves will be unsure. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/18/2001; BBC, 12/12/2001; PBS, 1/17/2002]
Greaves Suspects They Are Drug Smugglers - Greaves will later say: “I couldn’t help but be suspicious as to why [Atta] was there [at Huffman]. There was no love of flying in him.” She says Atta never shows any emotion and appears hypnotized. Although she never considers terrorism, she thinks there is “an ulterior motive, maybe drug smuggling.” After the 9/11 attacks, due to her suspicion of the pair, Greaves will contact the FBI with her concerns before the names of the suspected hijackers are made public. [BBC, 9/24/2001; Associated Press, 9/24/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/25/2001; BBC, 12/12/2001; Guardian, 7/5/2002]
One page of a torn up 757 cockpit poster used by the hijackers. It was found in a trash compactor at the Days Inn, near the Newark Airport. [Source: FBI]Investigators find a remarkable number of possessions left behind by the hijackers:
Two of Mohamed Atta’s bags are found on 9/11. They contain a handheld electronic flight computer, a simulator procedures manual for Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft, two videotapes relating to “air tours” of the Boeing 757 and 747 aircraft, a slide-rule flight calculator, a copy of the Koran, Atta’s passport, his will, his international driver’s license, a religious cassette tape, airline uniforms, a letter of recommendation, “education related documentation” and a note (see September 28, 2001) to other hijackers on how to mentally prepare for the hijacking. [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/15/2001; Boston Globe, 9/18/2001; Independent, 9/29/2001; Associated Press, 10/5/2001] Author Terry McDermott will later comment, “Atta’s bag contained nearly every important document in his life… If you wanted to leave a roadmap for investigators to follow, the suitcase was a pretty good place to start.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 306]
Marwan Alshehhi’s rental car is discovered at Boston’s Logan Airport containing an Arabic language flight manual, a pass giving access to restricted areas at the airport, documents containing a name on the passenger list of one of the flights, and the names of other suspects. The name of the flight school where Atta and Alshehhi studied, Huffman Aviation, is also found in the car. [Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2001]
A car registered to Nawaf Alhazmi is found at Washington’s Dulles Airport on September 12. This is the same car he bought in San Diego in early 2000 (see March 25, 2000). Inside is a copy of Atta’s letter to the other hijackers, a cashier’s check made out to a flight school in Phoenix, four drawings of the cockpit of a 757 jet, a box cutter-type knife, maps of Washington and New York, and a page with notes and phone numbers. [Arizona Daily Star, 9/28/2001; Cox News Service, 10/21/2001; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] The name and phone number of Osama Awadallah, a friend of Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in San Diego, is also found on a scrap of paper in the car (see September 12, 2001 and After). [CNN, 2/1/2002]
A rental car is found in an airport parking lot in Portland, Maine. Investigators are able to collect fingerprints and hair samples for DNA analysis. [Portland Press Herald, 10/14/2001]
A Boston hotel room contains airplane and train schedules. [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/15/2001]
FBI agents carry out numerous garbage bags of evidence from a Florida apartment where Saeed Alghamdi lived. [CNN, 9/17/2001]
Two days before 9/11, a hotel owner in Deerfield Beach, Florida, finds a box cutter left in a hotel room used by Marwan Alshehhi and two unidentified men. The owner checks the nearby trash and finds a duffel bag containing Boeing 757 manuals, three illustrated martial arts books, an 8-inch stack of East Coast flight maps, a three-ring binder full of handwritten notes, an English-German dictionary, an airplane fuel tester, and a protractor. The FBI seizes all the items when they are notified on September 12 (except the binder of notes, which the owner apparently threw away). [Miami Herald, 9/16/2001; Associated Press, 9/16/2001]
In an apartment rented by Ziad Jarrah and Ahmed Alhaznawi, the FBI finds a notebook, videotape, and photocopies of their passports. [Miami Herald, 9/15/2001]
In a bar the night before 9/11, after making predictions of a attack on America the next day, the hijackers leave a business card and a copy of the Koran at the bar. The FBI also recovers the credit card receipts from when they paid for their drinks and lap dances. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001]
A September 13 security sweep of Boston airport’s parking garage uncovers items left behind by the hijackers: a box cutter, a pamphlet written in Arabic, and a credit card. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001]
A few hours after the attacks, suicide notes that some of the hijackers wrote to their parents are found in New York. Credit card receipts showing that some of the hijackers paid for flight training in the US are also found. [Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2001]
A FedEx bill is found in a trash can at the Comfort Inn in Portland, Maine, where Atta stayed the night before 9/11. The bill leads to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, allowing investigators to determine much of the funding for 9/11. [Newsweek, 11/11/2001; London Times, 12/1/2001]
A bag hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar left at a mosque in Laurel, Maryland, is found on September 12. The bag contains flight logs and even receipts from flight schools from San Diego the year before (see September 9, 2001).
On 9/11, in a Days Inn hotel room in Newark, New Jersey, investigators find used plane tickets for Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ziad Jarrah, and Ahmed Alnami. The tickets are all from a Spirit Continental Airlines flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Newark on September 7. Also, flight manuals for Boeing 757 and 767 airplanes are found in English and Arabic. [Investigative Services Division, FBI Headquarters, 4/19/2002]
The hijackers past whereabouts can even be tracked by their pizza purchases. An expert points out: “Most people pay cash for pizza. These [hijackers] paid with a credit card. That was an odd thing.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/3/2002] “In the end, they left a curiously obvious trail—from martial arts manuals, maps, a Koran, Internet and credit card fingerprints. Maybe they were sloppy, maybe they did not care, maybe it was a gesture of contempt of a culture they considered weak and corrupt.” [Miami Herald, 9/22/2001] The New Yorker quotes a former high-level intelligence official as saying: “Whatever trail was left was left deliberately—for the FBI to chase” (see Late September 2001). [New Yorker, 10/8/2001]
Entity Tags: Huffman Aviation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington Dulles International Airport, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alnami, Mohamed Atta, Saeed Alghamdi, Osama Awadallah, Nawaf Alhazmi, Terry McDermott, Ziad Jarrah
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Around 2:30 a.m., the FBI arrives at Huffman Aviation flight school in Venice, Florida, inquiring about suspected hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, who attended the school (see July 6-December 19, 2000). Huffman Aviation has around 200 students, about half of them foreigners. The FBI takes away all its records on former students, including photocopies of Atta and Alshehhi’s passports, as well as two computers. [Charlotte Sun, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/13/2001; US Congress, 3/19/2002] Students at another Florida flight school say the FBI arrived at their school within hours of the attacks (see September 11, 2001).
Six months after 9/11, a Venice, Florida flight school attended by Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi belatedly receives visa approval forms for the alleged hijackers. The two had been required to apply for student visas before entering a professional flight training program. Their applications were sent from the school, Huffman Aviation, to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in August or September 2000 (see (August 29-September 15, 2000)). The forms show that the INS approved the visas in July and August 2001, clearing both men to stay in the US until October 1, 2001. Spokesman Russ Bergeron says the INS notified the two shortly afterwards. Despite Atta and Alshehhi’s alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, an INS clerk issued their visas in October 2001. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) comments, “This shows once again the complete incompetence of the immigration service to enforce our laws and protect our borders.” [Charlotte Sun, 3/13/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 3/13/2002]
The crash of Arne Kruithof’s plane at Venice Municipal Airport. [Source: Public domain]Within the space of seven months, the owners of two Venice, Florida flight schools attended by several of the alleged 9/11 suicide pilots are separately in serious air accidents. On June 26, 2002, Arne Kruithof, whose Florida Flight Training Center was attended by Ziad Jarrah, survives a crash at the Venice Municipal Airport. He is a passenger in a twin-engine plane, which suddenly pulls to the left when about 50 feet off the runway and the pilot is unable to regain control. All the passengers are uninjured, but the plane is damaged extensively. [Venice Gondolier Sun, 6/29/2002] On January 24, 2003, Rudi Dekkers, whose Huffman Aviation was attended by Marwan Alshehhi and Mohamed Atta, crashes his helicopter. He is flying to work early in the morning for a meeting with a competitor, to sell his flight school to them. Ten minutes after takeoff, his engine cuts out and he crashes into a river. He is rescued from the ice-cold water by a friend and fellow helicopter pilot who pulls him to shore. He arrives in Venice later in the day, and is able to proceed with the sale of Huffman Aviation. Two days earlier, the Associated Press had announced that Dekkers was to be arrested on felony fraud charges (see August 23, 2001-April 2004). [Associated Press, 1/22/2003; Associated Press, 1/24/2003; Venice Gondolier Sun, 1/25/2003; Naples Daily News, 1/25/2003; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 1/28/2003] In 2011, Dekkers will say that he is convinced someone tried to kill him, although he doesn’t know who. “The fuel lines were cut.” [Miami Herald, 5/5/2011]
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