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Fri, Dec 19, 2008

Authorities: Pilot Of Missing Trislander Stole Aircraft

Student Pilot Had Rotorcraft License Stripped In 2006

Details surrounding this week's disappearance of a Britten-Norman Trislander near the Bahamas are starting to gel, after several conflicting and confusing initial reports.

As ANN reported, the BN-2A MK III Trislander with 12 onboard disappeared Monday afternoon in the vicinity of the so-called "Bermuda Triangle." Initial reports identified the aircraft as a missing airline flight bound for New York from the Dominican Republic; later reports indicated the plane had actually been stolen.

Dominican authorities tell the Associated Press they now know who was flying the plane... and, that he shouldn't have been for at least two reasons. Adriano Jimenez had only a US student pilot certificate in his possession; he reportedly lost his rotorcraft license in 2006, after being caught operating multiengine fixed-wing aircraft without the proper rating.

Jimenez earned his student rating in March; Pedro Dominguez, president of the Dominican Pilots Association, adds that Jimenez apparently had a minor landing accident in a small plane just two weeks ago. "An in-depth investigation was never opened to prevent what today we are lamenting," Dominguez said.

The Trislander was owned by Luis Perez, who is also president of Puerto Rico Airlines. Perez told the AP he hired a pilot to fly the accident plane to the Dominican Republic to show it to an interested buyer -- Jimenez.

Perez says that pilot was met by Jimenez... and 11 other passengers. When the pilot refused to fly with Jimenez with all those people onboard, Jimenez commandeered the plane (type shown below) and departed Santiago with his passengers, operating on a flight plan to Mayaguana Island.

Local officials think Jimenez was trying to fly illegal immigrants to the US.

US Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena said Jimenez sent a distress call about 35 minutes after he took off over the Atlantic, in low visibility conditions. Aided by local authorities, the Coast Guard searched a roughly 5,300 square mile area of the Atlantic Ocean, turning up no sign of the missing aircraft. The search was suspended Wednesday.

FMI: www.uscg.mil

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