Free "Ten Romeo"!

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GUEST EDITORIAL. Last April, renowned educator and humanitarian Dr. Millard Harmon made an emergency landing in Cuba when his Bonanza developed a serious oil leak while on a flight from the U.S. to Grand Cayman. Harmon landed his oil-covered craft in Havana, where Cuban mechanics discovered that the gear-driven alternator was loose. But upon his return to the States, the U.S. Treasury Department said they didn't believe that Harmon's emergency was genuine, and proceeded to confiscate Harmon's aircraft under seizure laws intended to be used against drug smugglers (even though there has never been the remotest suggestion that Dr. Harmon was involved with narcotics). Ron Kensey urges AVweb readers to help Dr. Harmon get his airplane back, and to change the laws that allow the feds to seize aircraft from U.S. citizens without having to prove them guilty of any crime. What happened to the presumption of innocence?

I hadn't heard from my friend Mil Harmon for a while. When I got his letter the other day I understood why. For the first time in 27 years he is without "Ten Romeo," a beautiful 1969 Beech Bonanza 36 (full registration N7710R) considered by some to be the most renowned single-engine aircraft in the world. This plane opened Soviet skies to western light aircraft, and has set 154 speed records on Dr. Harmon's missions to carry medicine and goodwill throughout the world.

On April 7, "Ten Romeo" was confiscated by the United States Customs after returning to the United States from Cuba. Dr. Harmon had been trying to get to Cuba to deliver medicine. He had spent two years attempting to meet all requirements of the Treasury and Commerce Department for his humanitarian mission. The Treasury issued the necessary permits. But when the Commerce Department denied his fourth request for a Temporary Sojourn License, Dr. Harmon modified his flight plan to depart Washington, overfly Havana for a DCA-HAV speed record, and land at Grand Cayman where he had arranged alternate transport of the medicine to Cuba.

"Ten Romeo" developed an oil leak and as fate would have it he was forced to land in Havana. His plane was covered with oil, and before he landed his engine started running rough. But some bureaucrats in the United States government say he planned it that way, that there was no emergency at all. Newspaper accounts said that the Treasury Department was considering fining him $55,000 for landing in Havana. Still Dr. Harmon believed this was an error because the Treasury Department had issued the necessary permits for him to take medicine to Cuba. His problem was with the Commerce Department, but it was irrelevant because he didn't have any safe choice other than to land in Havana.

The day before his return to the U.S., he requested in writing to be allowed to clear Customs in Albany, N.Y. (his home airport) because he assumed that his plane would be confiscated and held until they collected the $55,000 fine and he knew he could deal better with the situation there. At a press conference at the Albany Airport, a Customs official indicated that the Treasury did not believe "Ten Romeo" had an airborne emergency, and they confiscated his plane.

Then the FAA got involved by asking for his log books and investigating the repairs in Cuba, Grand Cayman and Freeport. The FAA admonished Dr. Harmon in certified letter for removing the spinner and tightening the alternator bolts himself. The FAA's letter goes on to say that they were not taking any other legal action.

"Ten Romeo" has been held hostage by the United States Government since April. His airplane has been confiscated and he won't get it back until he proves himself innocent! On October 14, Dr. Harmon will appear in Federal District Court. He faces up to $55,000 in fines. He may loose "Ten Romeo".

The irony is that Dr. Millard Harmon helped negotiate the release of Mathias Rust, the young German pilot who flew his plane into Red Square. Dr. Harmon was in Moscow after having completed a flight from Washington to Sheremetyevo to commemorate the remarkable 1937 flight of three Russians from Moscow to the United States. Harmon told Chairman Gorbachev that he had worked with teenagers most of his life as a teacher and college administrator, and knew them well. He played a major part in convincing the Soviets to spank Rust as a wayward child and send him home.

Dr. Harmon's landing was no prank or act of defiance, it was an emergency. Anyone who knows Millard Harmon knows that he is innocent. But in 1997 in the United States of America, your property may be confiscated by the Federal Government until you prove yourself innocent.

If it can happen to Dr. Harmon, it can happen to you. We're not talking about confiscating a plane from a drug runner here! Dr. Harmon is a retired school teacher who has devoted his entire life to serving his fellow man. His love of children has opened friendships with like minded people in countries where we haven't had many friends before. He's been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. "Ten Romeo" has blazed the skies to bring medical supplies to children and children to medical care who otherwise would have gone without.

Harmon honestly believed until now (perhaps na´vely) that this was just a mistake by the government that would be straightened out. He wouldn't ask for help and even in his newsletter; he only asks for prayers.

But he needs our help. That's why I would like to invite all of Dr. Harmon's friends and sponsors to join me in contributing to his legal defense. Even if you don't know Dr. Harmon, help us free "Ten Romeo" and consider it a small contribution to keep America free. I know that Dr. Harmon would welcome your prayers and support.