Planes Buzz Beach, Set Off Terrorist Alerts
Planes Buzz Beach,
Set Off Terrorist Alerts
By Howard Schwach
The pilots of two light planes transiting from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to New Jersey, flew through a restricted zone on July Fourth, buzzing Rockaway beaches at a height of 25 feet before being forced down at a New Jersey airport by helicopters from the New York City Police Department.
The antics of the two pilots sparked terrorist alerts throughout the city and the region in light of the federal warnings about a possible terrorist attack on America’s Birthday.
Two Florida men, Andre Paul Ackbar Morais, 28 of Tamarac, Florida and Daniel Oliverir, 31, of Holyhill, Florida, were flying the two private aircraft, a Piper Arrow and a Cessna, back to New Jersey from Cape Cod, where they had been pulling advertising signs over the beachfront.
According to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, "the two pilots are alleged to have flown as low as 25 feet and to have come dangerously close to NYPD pilots. Their aggressive and reckless actions put many lives in danger, including their own, and showed extremely poor judgment during the heightened state of security, especially on our nation’s birthday."
The two men, flying separate aircraft, entered New York airspace about 6 p.m. Buzzing the Rockaway beaches, the two men sped west, heading for New York Harbor.
Police helicopters stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn were alerted to the intruders in what amounts to a restricted zone. Four copters were vectored to the planes, which had neither their transponders nor their radios on during the transit.
According to police sources, the Piper PA18-135 aircraft flown by Morais flew directly at one of the copters, forcing the copter to take evasive action when the light plane came within 30 feet.
"I saw the planes come in really low and really fast over the beach," said on Rockaway residents who was hosting out-of-town guests on the beach, awaiting the later fireworks show. "I didn’t think too much of it, but I knew that it wasn’t right."
After buzzing the Marine Parkway Bridge and a cruise ship in the lower harbor, the pilots, still being shadowed by the NYPD copters turned towards New Jersey.
At one point, Air Force Jet fighter aircraft joined the pursuit, flying high cover over the two planes and the NYPD copters.
According to police sources, officials were concerned that the two planes were part of a terrorist plot to attack the area where tens of thousands had gathered to watch the Macy’s Fireworks show.
The two pilots eventually landed their planes at Monmouth County Executive Airport in New Jersey, where they were arrested.
Representatives from the joint NYPD-FBI terrorist task force spent several hours questioning the men before being satisfied that they were not part of a terrorist attack.
On Thursday, the two men were still being held in custody for extradition to New York, where they are being charged with reckless endangerment in the first degree, dangerous or reckless operation of an aircraft and violating air traffic regulations. They face a prison term of up to seven years if they are convicted.
Arlene Salac, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) told The Wave on Tuesday that the investigation will include looking at the transponders on the NYPD aircraft to see exactly where the two errant planes flew.
"Understandably, they panicked lots of people," she says. "We are taking this very seriously."
While the time taken to complete FAA investigations vary, Salac expects this investigation to "move as quickly as possible."
FAA penalties will be added to those inflicted by local courts.
"We have a whole range of sanctions," Salac explains. " They range from monetary fines to suspension of pilot’s license to revocation."
The two pilots are expected to be back in New York City for a court date early next week.