“Hijacker” Instructor Described Woeful Skills
Guest column by Hugh Turley
An edited version of this article was published in the September 2008 Hyattsville (MD) Life and Times.
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This month at the Pentagon a memorial will be dedicated to the 184 victims who died on September 11, 2001. One of those victims was my high school ROTC instructor, Max Beilke. On March 29, 1973, Max Beilke was the “official last man” to leave Vietnam when the United States was ending its direct military presence in Vietnam.
When tragedy struck the morning of September 11 people wondered what had happened. The names and the number of victims would not be known for weeks.
The following day The Washington Post described how American Airlines Flight 77 approached the Pentagon, “The unidentified pilot executed a pivot so tight that it reminded observers of a fighter jet maneuver…aviation sources said the plane was flown with extraordinary skill. Someone even knew how to turn off the transponder, a move that is considerably less than obvious.”
Within days the names of 19 terrorist hijackers were publicized.
On September 16, Hani Hanjour was named as the hijacker and pilot aboard American Airlines Flight 77. The Washington Post said, “Federal records show Hani Hanjoor [sic] obtained a commercial pilot’s license in April of 1999 with a rating to fly commercial jets”.
When Hanjour’s name appeared in the press, Marcel Bernard, the chief flight instructor at the Freeway Airport in nearby Mitchellville, Md., contacted authorities and reported that Hanjour had visited the airport.
Hanjour went into the air in a Cessna 172 three times with instructors in August of 2001, a scant month before the attack on the Pentagon, for a “check out” to rent an airplane, Bernard told the Hyattsville Life and Times. “Insurance requires that a person must be checked out before they can rent a plane at the airport,” Bernard said. “Hanjour’s skills were so poor we would not rent a plane to him.”
The Prince George’s Journal [Sept. 18, 2001] reported that Hanjour did not finish a flight school in Arizona in 1996 “because instructors felt he was not capable.” Bernard recalled that Hanjour did have a commercial pilot’s license that had been issued in Arizona, but he was certain Hanjour did not have what is called a “Type Rating,” which is necessary to fly commercial jets.
Not only are the requisite piloting skills different, but a certified commercial jet pilot must be proficient in English. Bernard said that Hanjour’s English speaking skills were so poor he “could barely understand him on the telephone.”
Bernard said it is possible a person with some flying experience, even a poor pilot like Hanjour, could steer a plane in the air and crash it into a building. But, he said, “[Hanjour’s] skills were so poor he may have been aiming for the White House when he hit the Pentagon.”
Bernard was asked about the Post’s report that “aviation sources said the plane was flown with extraordinary skill” and executed a pivot that “reminded observers of a fighter jet maneuver.”
“That’s difficult to believe,” he responded. “I don’t believe a lot that I read in the newspaper.”
He then asked rhetorically, “Whose opinions are those, and who are the unnamed aviation sources?”
It is fitting that a memorial should be dedicated to all the innocent victims who perished on that fateful day. It is also proper that all of our questions be answered.
April 6, 2015