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Sun, Oct 16, 2005

Stolen Citation Pilot Indicted On Grand Theft Charge

Further Details Emerge On 'Joyride,' Pilot's History

The case against Daniel Andrew Wolcott -- the man accused of stealing a Cessna Citation last weekend from a Florida Airport and then taking friends on a flight in Georgia -- grew Friday as authorities announced he will face a first-degree felony charge for grand theft for the incident.

Officials will attempt to extradite Wolcott, 22, from Georgia back to Florida to face the charge, according to St. Johns County Sheriff's Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan, to the Associated Press. If convicted, Wolcott could face up to 30 years in prison plus a $10,000 fine for the "joy ride."

The man also faces numerous state charges for reckless conduct over the incident, described by one flight instructor as extremely dangerous to the passengers onboard.

"I don't think the five passengers on that plane had any idea how much danger they were in," said Steve Haslup, who teaches at Gwinnett County Airport-Briscoe Field. "It's remarkable that no one was hurt."

FAA officials state the plane's transponder had been disabled, so Atlanta air space controllers could not easily track it. The pilot also did not file a flight plan or talk to air traffic controllers, and investigators believe the fuel level was dangerously low on the Citation.

According to Mulligan, investigators claim Wolcott flew into St. Augustine, FL, the Thursday before the incident as co-pilot on another plane.

He was to stay the weekend in St. Augustine before flying out the following Monday, but instead officials allege he stole the $7 million Citation VII and flew the jet up to Gwinnett County Airport/Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville, GA, to meet friends.

The five passengers -- identified as Nathaniel Lewis Baker, Michael Coffey, James Corbett, Ian Andrew Smith and Mark Zwak -- told officials Wolcott called them and told them to be at the Georgia airport early Sunday to meet him and go flying. They told police they were unaware the aircraft was stolen.

Wolcott flew the five on the Citation to Winder, GA and back. Authorities claim Wolcott then abandoned the airplane and caught a commercial flight back to Florida. Monday morning, he again flew right-seat out of St. Augustine on the same aircraft he'd flown in on Thursday morning.

In all, officials say Wolcott flew the stolen Citation approximately 350 miles.

The Citation was reported missing after its pilot and co-pilot arrived at St. Augustine Airport last Monday morning to find their aircraft was missing. The Citation (photo below), owned by Pinnacle Air Services of Springdale, AR, was later found in Georgia.

Pinnacle marketing director John George told reporters no one at the company knew Wolcott, and he had no clue why their plane -- the only Cessna jet in Pinnacle's nine-jet fleet, the rest are Lears -- was targeted.

"It appears to be a random act," he said.

Wolcott may have done this once before, albeit not on as grand a scale. Lanny Pruchnicki, one of owners of The Flight School of Gwinnett, recalled renting a Piper Cherokee to Wolcott three or four years ago. In that incident, Wolcott reportedly paid for a local flight out of the Georgia airport.

"Three days later, I found it [the plane] in Chattanooga," Pruchnicki said.

Authorities also state Wolcott was involved in a 2003 incident when the Cessna 150 he was piloting flew into a flock of geese, forcing him to attempt an emergency landing. According to the NTSB report on the incident, while attempting a go-around Wolcott's aircraft clipped a treeline, causing the aircraft to flip land 30 feet away, inverted. Wolcott suffered minor injuries in the accident.

Despite those incidents, Wolcott was described by many as a talented pilot, holding multi-engine and IFR ratings. He is also reportedly rated on Westwind corporate jets.

He was not rated on the Citation, however, which usually requires two pilots. Again, Haslup said, Wolcott and his passengers were lucky. "The [Citation VII] has a reputation of being easy to fly from a stick-and-rudder standpoint, but a pilot has to have detailed knowledge of the systems on the aircraft."

"Everything on that airplane had to work perfectly on that flight," added Halsup. "And apparently it did."

FMI: www.gwinnettcountyairport.com, www.pinnacleairservice.com

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