News / USA

Flight School Where 9/11 Plotters Trained Broke

Ten years after terrorists attacked the United States, some Americans are still shocked at what happened - shocked that terrorists flew planes into buildings in New York and Washington, shocked that they killed some 3,000 people, shocked that three of the four terrorist pilots trained at flight schools in the U.S.  One of those flight schools is out of business and the owner is out of money. 

We are about to climb inside a four-seat Cessna 172.

It's the same kind that Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi trained in for their pilot's license.  Atta and al-Shehhi were the terrorists at the controls of two of the planes on September 11, 2001 - the two that crashed into the World Trade Center.  

Our pilot is the man who ran the flight school that trained both of them for six months: Rudi Dekkers, a Dutch citizen who has lived in the United States since 1993.

Dekkers is taking us on the same flight training path, along the Atlantic Ocean.  These southwestern Florida skies are popular for training because of the flat ground and the coastline that can be used for navigation.

Rudi Dekkers, former owner of Huffman Aviation
Rudi Dekkers, former owner of Huffman Aviation

“We always went 10 miles out of the area and this is a quiet area so they did the stalls here, the steep turns, their whole practicing,” he recalls.

Dekkers saw his two student pilots every day. He still has their applications, test scores and student visa papers.  Even Atta’s signature on his pilot license.

“Atta was always very by himself," Dekkers remembers. "He didn’t talk too much. Didn’t like to talk to us. But al-Shehhi did."

They were much like his other foreign students, except, Dekkers says, they were disrespectful and inattentive. After his chief instructor warned they might be expelled, Atta and al-Shehhi's attitudes improved.  But what his company trained them to do unravelled his life, his fortune and his business.  

“That’s where was my airline office and my maintenance office, but you know, nothing is mine anymore,” a regretful Dekkers says.

At  4:00 a.m. the day after the terrorist attacks, FBI agents entered Dekkers' office. They confiscated his files and computers.  Immigration officials questioned him about these student visa applications. He testified before Congress.  Florida charged him with fraud, then dropped the charges.

“That brought so much stress. Lost financially everything," he says. "I was worth $12 million on paper and a year after 9/11, I was worth $46,000.”

Dekkers blames the terrorists, al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.  He's written a book about his experience called, "Guilty by Association."  If he had a flight school today,   
"I would not have Muslim students,” he says.

Dekkers says his once successful life is now gone.  

“When you lose your dream; when you lose all your money - I lived on the beach in Naples [Florida].  Had to sell the house.  I lost everything.  But I’m still here,” he says.

But some 3,000 others aren’t.  Rudi Dekkers says he's a survivor.  And, that’s the story he wants to tell.  


Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid