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9/11: A Year After / WHO WE ARE NOW

Rudi Dekkers

September 11, 2002

Rudi Dekkers, a 46-year-old native of the Netherlands, owns Huffman Aviation International, the flight school on Florida's Gulf Coast where two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, took flying lessons. For months, his business suffered as a result of the notoriety.


"If you ask me if we have any Muslims coming over, would I look differently at them, I'd say yeah. Right now, I want nobody here who has anything to do with that part of the world.

I understand the people responsible are not all Muslims, but Al Qaeda. But if problems are being caused by some people who are pink, I don't want anything to do with people who are pink.

Atta started with a bad attitude and caused trouble everywhere. I didn't like him from Day One; he was very rude to me. One morning I saw him in a coffee break room. I started speaking German to him, and I saw disbelief on his face, like he had seen water burning, as we say in Holland. He said nothing and walked out.

When you looked at his face, it was like seeing a living dead man walking. His face had no expression, other than it looked like death, like he had come out of the coffin. I had that impression the first time I saw him. And I saw him for six months. Al-Shehhi was a likable guy, always smiling, always friendly. But of course I don't like him now. I would cut both of them in pieces if they were standing in front of me.

After a month, the chief flight instructor came to me and said, 'These two aren't listening, not paying attention. Can I expel them from the school?' And I said, 'You betcha.' He told them, 'Listen, or you are going to get kicked out.' After that, they changed. My bookkeeper rented them a room but kicked them out after a week because they were too dirty.

Did I sense anything was wrong? No. We see a lot of kids from rich families, rich backgrounds. Sometimes we kick them out.

I went to Congress on March 18, and they found I did everything by the book. Because when Atta and Al-Shehhi showed up, we checked their immigration status, the status with their visas. We found out that Atta had a B1-B2 business visa, and Al-Shehhi had a tourist visa. You cannot do flight training on those visas, so we applied for student visas.

After Congress and people nationwide heard we did things by the book, people started to fly into my airport and do business with me.

The government, I think, is scrutinizing all the flight training now, and therefore there are no foreign students. We still have Americans; in fact, we have a few more Americans than before, but we lost all the foreign students.

At the beginning, it was bad. We had some death threats. Now, basically, all we hear is good news. People come up and say, 'Aren't you the guy who owns Huffman Aviation?' And they shake hands with me.

[After Sept. 11], the press was asking me, 'Don't you feel responsible?' That question has gone away. Of course we didn't feel responsible, because we did everything by the book."


As told to John-Thor Dahlburg

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