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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs