Bail Set For ‘Hot Dogging’ Pilots
By Howard Schwach
Two Florida pilots, who buzzed Rockaway beaches on July 4, touching off terrorist alerts all over the city, remain in jail despite the fact that a Supreme Court justice in Queens set $100 thousand bail for each man.
The two pilots admitted in court on Wednesday at their arraignment that they had been "hot dogging" on their way back to their New Jersey base from a sign-towing job in Cape Cod and that they had turned off their radios and transponders.
Defense attorneys for the two indicted men, pilots Andre Morais and Daniel Olveria, told the court, however, that the pilots had received permission from an unspecified air controller to fly at a low altitude and that it was police helicopters, sent to investigate the low-flying aircraft on a day when the lookout for terrorist activity was high, that precipitated any problem that might have occurred.
"The two men did nothing to warrant being chased down by police helicopters," one of the attorneys reportedly told the judge.
The attorney, George Mayer, told the judge that it was the NYPD copter that caused a near-collision, not his client’s single-engine plane.
The pilots were flying lower than the regulated 1,000 feet because they wanted to get below the July 4 traffic," Mayor told the court. "They had clearance to do so, and when the NYPD pilot got too close to them, it was that pilot who created the risk."
"Your argument is not persuasive to me that this was somehow the helicopter pilot’s fault," the Justice Robert McGann told the lawyer.
According to eyewitness accounts, the pilots flew as low as 25 feet over the Rockaway beachfront, buzzing bathers and boaters alike.
After leaving Rockaway, the two allegedly buzzed the Marine Parkway Bridge and a cruise ship entering the harbor.
The two small planes transiting a no-fly zone around the harbor triggered a terrorist alert throughout the city.
At the time of the event, tens of thousands of New Yorkers were beginning to pack roadways around the East River in Manhattan and Brooklyn for the Macy’s fireworks display and police sources were concerned that the planes were heading for that area.
The NYPD helicopters, flying from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, chased the two planes two New Jersey, where they landed at a private field and were arrested on charges of reckless endangerment and violations of Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) rules.
The pilots were questioned by members of the joint terrorist task force before being released into police custody.
"Their actions were the essence of irresponsibility," said Assistant District Attorney Mark Resnick. "They were hot-dogging with no margin for error, putting both beachgoers and the police pilots in jeopardy.
The two men face seven years in prison if convicted. They also face FAA sanctions that could range from a suspension of their licenses to a complete revocation. They also face monetary sanctions from the FAA.
The next hearing for the two was set for August 1.