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Profile: Sawyer School of Aviation
Sawyer School of Aviation was a participant or observer in the following events:
Sawyer Aviation logo. [Source: Sawyer Aviation]In January 1998, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour and his friend Bandar Al Hazmi, who are now renting an apartment together in Phoenix, Arizona, train together at Arizona Aviation flight school. Hanjour supposedly receives his commercial pilot rating while there. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] Later in 1998, Hanjour joins the simulator club at Sawyer School of Aviation in Phoenix. According to the Washington Post, Sawyer is “known locally as a flight school of last resort.” Wes Fults, the manager of the flight simulator, says Hanjour has “only the barest understanding what the instruments were there to do.” After using the simulator four or five times, Hanjour disappears from the school. [Washington Post, 10/15/2001]
Hani Hanjour. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]While most evidence places future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour on the East Coast in the summer of 2001, Hanjour may undergo some flight training in Phoenix, Arizona, as well. Hanjour trained at the Sawyer School of Aviation previously (see 1998), and there is some evidence he returns there. One school document records Hanjour’s name for use of a flight simulator on June 23, 2001, though his name does not appear on payment records. Faisal al-Salmi, Rayed Abdullah, and Lotfi Raissi also use the flight simulator this day. Al-Salmi will later be convicted of lying about his associations with Hanjour (see February 15, 2002). Abdullah had moved with Hanjour from Florida in 1997, and is known for giving extremist speeches at a Phoenix mosque (see October 1996-Late April 1999). Raissi will later be suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot, then cleared (see September 21, 2001). There are also indications that Hanjour signs up to use a flight simulator in August with three other Muslim men, including al-Salmi. One Sawyer employee is fairly certain she sees Hanjour during the summer. Another witness sees Hanjour with al-Salmi elsewhere in Phoenix. The 9/11 Commission will note that the evidence of Hanjour training in Phoenix during the summer is not definitive, but “the FBI’s Phoenix office believes it is plausible that Hanjour return[s] to Arizona for additional training.” [New York Times, 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529] On July 10, 2001, Phoenix FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum to FBI headquarters urging a nationwide check on Middle Eastern students at flight schools (see July 10, 2001), but apparently neither Williams nor anyone else actually conducts any kind of check on Phoenix flight schools at this time (see July 10-September 11, 2001).
On July 10, 2001, Phoenix FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum to FBI headquarters urging a nationwide check on Middle Eastern students at flight schools (see July 10, 2001), but apparently neither Williams nor anyone else actually conducts any kind of check on Phoenix flight schools at this time. Phoenix flight school managers will later claim that the FBI does not ask them for tips on suspicious students before 9/11. A Sawyer School manager apparently had suspicions about some of his students (though he does not mention alleged Flight 77 pilot Hani Hanjour specifically). He later will say that had he known the FBI was concerned that some students might be Islamic militants, “I would have called someone.” Another flight school manager claims he has a good relationship with the FBI and is surprised he is not asked about Williams’s concerns. He will complain, “Should flight schools be clairvoyant?” [New York Times, 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529] In fact, although Hanjour left Arizona in March 2001 and lived on the East Coast after that time, there is evidence he comes back for some flight training in the Phoenix area in June and August 2001, including at the Sawyer School (see Summer 2001). The 9/11 Commission will later note that the evidence of Hanjour training in Phoenix during the summer is not definitive, but “the FBI’s Phoenix office believes it is plausible that Hanjour return[s] to Arizona for additional training.” [New York Times, 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529] It does not appear that Williams or any other FBI official checks flight schools anywhere else in Arizona before 9/11.
George Piro. [Source: FBI]George Piro and Ken Williams, two agents at the FBI field office in Phoenix, Arizona, visit a flight school in Phoenix to see if any suspicious students have attended it recently and the manager immediately informs them about Hani Hanjour, one of the alleged hijackers of Flight 77. As they watched the terrorist attacks unfolding on television, Piro and Williams decided they wanted to start responding to the crisis on their own initiative, rather than sitting around and waiting for an order. They know Phoenix has the second-highest concentration of flight schools in the nation. Piro therefore looked in the Yellow Pages and found three programs that offer commercial pilot licenses. With this information in hand, the two agents set out to visit some flight schools. The first one they go to is the Sawyer School of Aviation at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. They ask the manager there if any suspicious students have attended recently. Almost without hesitation, she gives them the file of one such student: Hanjour. [Graff, 2011, pp. 325; Washingtonian, 5/5/2011] Hanjour received training at the flight school earlier this year and, previously, in 1998 (see 1998 and Summer 2001). [Washington Post, 10/15/2001; Associated Press, 12/29/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529] He allegedly flew Flight 77 into the Pentagon (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Fox News, 1/7/2016] Just after they are given the file, Piro receives a call on his cell phone from an agent from the FBI’s Boston office. The agent, who is currently at Logan International Airport in Boston, says he has a name from the passenger manifest for Flight 77 that the Phoenix agents should look into: Hani Hanjour. To the agent’s surprise, Piro replies, “I’m holding his file in my hands right now.” Piro and Williams then head back to their office to report their progress. At the office, Piro tells their squad leader, “I’ve identified one of the hijackers.” Incredulous at this news, the squad leader replies, “Get out of here—I don’t have time for jokes today.” [Graff, 2011, pp. 325-326; Washingtonian, 5/5/2011]
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