One week after the crash outside Caracas, Venezuela of a twin-engine Piper Navajo (N6463L), an air of intrigue surrounds almost everything about the flight, including the plane's ownership, passengers, and pilot.
Woven into one small story about a plane crash in Venezuela that killed seven people are visible threads from two perennial American cover-ups: one surrounding vote fraud, and one covering-up the CIA's role in drug trafficking.
For anyone interested in the news that gets left out of the newspaper, its’ a Perfect Storm. The Mother of All Scandals.
The downed plane's relevance to the ongoing story of vote fraud in America involves the identity of it's passenger, Jose Alfredo Anzola, a 34-year old founder of Smartmatic, a Venezuela-based election company whose American subsidiary counted one in every three votes in the 2004 Presidential election, while engaged the whole time in heated controversy over allegations the firm counting America's votes had hidden ties to—of all people— Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.
The connection between last week's plane crash and the ongoing saga of CIA Drug trafficking begins with 43-year old Mario Donadi Gafaro, the veteran drug pilot at the controls of the twin engine plane.
Donadi boasts a 1999 drug trafficking conviction in the U.S., where he served three years.
Then, even more recently, he was convicted of the same offense in Venezuela, and sentenced to an eight-year stretch at Venezuela’s Big House.
When he crashed and burned last week, reporters noted with surprise, he still had six years to serve. Donadi was supposed to be in prison.
But he apparently has friends in high places.
Seven die in crash
The plane crashed atop a six-story roof near Caracas while attempting to return to the international airport at Maiquetía after both engines quit just minutes after take-off.
Seven people died in the accident, three from the plane and four people living in the apartment house where the aircraft crashed. Two were children, girls 8 and 9 years old.
Crash pictures show the plane's tail, decorated with four aces because it was used to ferry gamblers to Curacao's casinos, sitting upright on a rooftop.
Several aviation observers, citing the rare failure of both engines at once on twin-engine planes, have told the MadCowMorningNews they thought the crash appeared suspicious.
“Charter People,” the Venezuelan company operating the stricken plane when it crashed, has something of a checkered aviation history.
The company owned a Beach King Air 90 that last December ditched in the Caribbean 35 miles short of the Dominican Republic.
Seven people got out through an emergency hatch. 81 year-old Alicia Emmerich Fargie did not. She sank with the plane.
The Dominican Institute of Civil Aviation later issued a statement saying one of their priorities remained locating her body.
"Maybe he was just slippery."
Aircraft registered in another country must have a permit to conduct charter flights in Venezuela. But that was the least of the irregularities which red-faced Venezuelan officials were left trying to explain away.
There were unanswered questions about why pilot Mario Donadi Gafaro's eight-year stretch for drug trafficking had had such little apparent effect on the pilot's freedom of movement.
Aviation officials in Venezuela predictably preferred to dwell on why U.S. authorities should be investigating how convicted felon Donadi got a pilot’s license in the U.S. from the FAA.
Local Venezuelan reporters asked, "How it was possible that Donadi, instead of lifting weights in a prison yard, was able to jet off to international destinations like the flight's announced destination of Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles?"
One went so far as to write that it was a "Ripley's Believe it or not Moment."
We recalled what we'd been told while reporting the story of 23 missing helicopters at the Charlotte County Airport (later discovered to have been exported overseas by the CIA.)
The choppers weren't actually missing, said one wag at the airport. They'd just released themselves on their own recognizance.
Maybe that's what Donadi had done, too.
'Sheep-dipped' in Houston?
What's the connection between last week's plane crash and the ongoing saga of CIA Drug trafficking? If you guessed "the plane's tangled ownership," you've obviously been paying attention.
The mystery of who owns the downed American-registered aircraft is, as per usual, an enduring one, perhaps even to law enforcement.
Like other well-publicized recent American planes downed in Central and South America, as more became known about the incident, the identification of the plane’s owners became progressively less certain.
“According to the Federal Aviation Agency in the United States, the aircraft is owned by Aircraft Guaranty & Trust of Houston,” The Miami Herald reported.
Well, not exactly. The downed plane was merely registered to Aircraft Guaranty, which reportedly regularly disguises, or "sheep-dips," CIA aircraft into the unsuspecting world of general aviation.
Who actually owns the plane is anybody's guess. And therein lies a tale.
Over America: Six Hundred Ghost Planes
The doomed flight’s owner, or owners, are deliberately shrouded in the mystery of an Offshore Aviation Trust.
The scheme is the brainchild of Connie Wood, a former senior FAA official who owns Aircraft Guaranty, the company to whom the downed plane was registered. Despite its tiny size, more than six hundred American aircraft are registered to the firm.
It’s “a boon for well heeled U.S. owners seeking personal liability protection and ownership anonymity,” Wood told the Mooney Pilot.
The aviation magazine reported, “He predicts soon full FAA-approved and legal Off-Shore (as in the Cayman Islands) Aviation Trusts will be THE way most liability conscious and financially established owner/pilots will opt to take title to their aircraft… It promises to be far better than a typical corporate entity in protecting the beneficiary from personal liability exposure.”
Wood is a former U.S. Lt. Colonel who one aviation magazine (Mooney Pilot) stated is “the original Foreign Pilot Examiner for the FAA, where he personally served as prototype in the FAA’s Foreign Pilot Examiner test bed program.”
“Wood is the only such FAA Foreign Pilot Examiner Designee licensed to operate outside the U.S.,” the magazine reported.
“Uniquely, this allows Wood to issue FAA Licenses to non-residents outside the U.S. without the applicant ever entering the U.S.”
Wood’s FAA connections would seem to make him ideally suited for providing “cover” and plausible deniability to airplanes which have become infamous in planespotter circles for flying CIA “extraordinary renditions.”
The emergence of the famous 'planespotters,' who have identified, or "outed," several dozen airplanes apparently belonging to the CIA for use in "extraordinary renditions," may be responsible for some of Wood's success.
We called Wood for comment, but the only answer at the company's number was a voice mail message. At least they have a phone.
"Takes the checkered flag for checkered pasts."
Nor is Aircraft Guaranty’s reputation for serving as a "nominee" or "front" for ownership of planes by foreign nationals and spooks undeserved. Examples abound. Some Aircraft Guaranty highlights (or lowlights:)
Aircraft Guaranty “owned” a plane (N11ZD) discovered sitting unattended at the Portland Airport on September 11, 2001. It had been left there by Khalid Alzeedi, a shadowy Saudi who owned Zidi Aviation, who was wanted for questioning by the FBI.
”FBI agents have been looking into whether associates of Osama bin Laden may traveled to Middle Tennessee this past summer in search of aircraft that could be used for training pilots, NewsChannel 5 has learned,” reported Brian Mosely of NewsChannel5 (WTVF - Nashville) on Oct. 7, 2001.
“The name of one man who spent some time here has made it onto an official list of some 370 possible suspects inadvertently released by Finnish banking authorities."
"Z-Man, We Hardly Knew Ye."
His name was Khalid Alzeedi. A year after the attack (fall 2002) the FBI announced they were no longer looking for him.
Others weren’t so sure...
“One night, Alzeedi was inside Eddie George's Grill at the Hilton Suites, just across from Nashville's arena,” Mosely reported in the evening newscast.
“Someone apparently stepped on his foot. Hotel workers say Alzeedi then identified himself as an Iranian diplomat, and demanded that the hotel compensate him.”
“(Later) the hotel locked Alzeedi and his party out of their rooms because of an unpaid bill of approximately $2,500. Inside the rooms, hotel workers found satellite navigation equipment and wet suits.”
Those kinky Saudis.
The "return" of Wally Hilliard
Aircraft Guaranty even owns a plane which was used by and registered to terror flight school owner Wally Hilliard.
Hilliard’s Plane 1 Leasing owned a Lear Jet (N35NK), used for frequent flights to Rum Cay in the Bahamas, a sleepy little isle which began suddenly experiencing the wonders of big-time cocaine shipments.
The plane was later sold to Aircraft Guaranty, where it made flights to Guantanamo, as well as numerous other dubious Caribbean hot spots, and had its picture taken during a rendition flight in Portugal.
Yet it also still flew, and regularly, to known drug transfer points: Venice, Florida, Treasure Cay San Salvador, and Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas, the Netherlands Antilles, St. Maarten, and even Toluca, Mexico (where the DC9 with 5.5 tons of coke was supposed to offload.)
The sister ship to the DC9 'Cocaine One'
Aircraft Guaranty today owns a DC 9 (N120NE) which was the sister ship of the DC-9 (N900SA) caught carrying 5.5 tons of pure cocaine in April of 2006, which set off a chain of events that eventually led law enforcement authorities in Mexico to identify 100 American planes purchased with laundered money from Mexico’s dominant Sinaloa Cartel.
Both DC9’s belonged to company insiders at SkyWay Aircraft, itself a company whose dubious existence cannot pass close scrutiny. There are two separate Skyway Aircraft’s, their owners insist, two business entities located at two separate small airports, with nothing in common but the same name.
The 5.5. ton bust was a depth charge dropped beneath into hitherto unexplored depths of an American drug trafficking empire which may be larger than any known object in the Universe.
Mexico’s legitimate trade with the U.S., for example, is big enough to send $4 billion north annually into U.S. banks.
Yet Mexico banks $16 billion in the U.S. annually. The other $12 billion, as any banker can tell you, is drug money, which the banks are happy to have.
All this intrigue, its hard to believe, is occurring in a sleepy city on Florida’s Gulf Coast filled with amiable retirees, a good number of whom do, indeed, play shuffleboard, St Petersburg FL., the most unlikely place imaginable for to find the American Drug Lords.
That's probably why they’re there.