The flight school whose Cessna 172 was stolen for a cross-border flight Monday says security was not compromised in the incident because the alleged thief was a student who had normal access to the aircraft. Adam Leon, a 31-year-old Turkish immigrant who became a Canadian last year, was arrested near Ellsinore, Mo. Monday evening after landing on a highway. In a statement, Confederation College, of Thunder Bay, Ontario, said that it was the first incident of its kind in the flight school’s 35-year history. Rather than a theft, the school is calling the incident an “unauthorized flight.” But in an interview with the Canadian Press, Pat Lang, the college’s president said a thorough review of security would be undertaken. Under the existing policy, flight students have access to the ramp and hangar. “When the planes are beside the hangar, the keys are kept in the aircraft,” she said.
Leon, who arrived in Canada under the name Yavuz Berke, reportedly told the sheriffs who arrested him that he wanted the F-16s to shoot him down but when that didn’t happen he lost his nerve and put the aircraft down on the road. The FBI told CP that a background check on Leon didn’t turn up any terrorist ties and NORAD spokesman Mike Kucharek said his excursion through the Midwest was treated as a “safety of flight” issue. Leon is in jail in St. Louis while authorities on both sides of the border hash out how to proceed, although the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have apparently decided to treat it as a simple theft rather than an international incident. “It is still a joint investigation between the RCMP and Thunder Bay police service in regards to the theft as well as to any aeronautic or Transport Canada offences…,” Sgt. Marc LaPorte said. Leon was described by neighbors and school officials as bright and friendly and showed no signs of the depression he was apparently being treated for. He had initially failed his flying course but was re-admitted and was doing well the second time. He completed his first solo last week and was preparing for his solo cross country flight.