An elderly couple who chartered a small plane on the pretext of having sex in the sky died when the plane plunged into the sea off the Florida Keys after they tried to hijack it to Cuba, U.S. authorities said today.
The unidentified couple scuffled with the pilot when the Piper Cherokee was about 40 miles south of Key West, sending the small plane plunging into deep water in the Florida Straits between Key West and Cuba, the pilot told agents investigating the alleged hijacking attempt.
The pilot, Thomas Hayashi, 36, managed to scramble out of the sinking plane and suffered only cuts and bruises. But the man and woman apparently were trapped.
"This is what the pilot is telling us," FBI Agent Judy Orihuela said. "An elderly Cuban couple in their 60s asked to be taken on a 'Mile High' tour. Once they were up in the air … they demanded to be taken to Cuba.
"There was a scuffle and the pilot tried to maneuver the plane. The man fell on the throttle and made it so that he [the pilot] couldn't fly the plane. He had to ditch the plane."
Not-So-Friendly Skies Lately
It was the second bizarre incident involving a small plane in the Florida Keys recently. On July 31, American pizza delivery man Milo John Reese took off on a flying lesson in a Cessna and ended up crashing the plane on a beach in Cuba. He was charged with transporting a stolen plane.
Local media said Hayashi was the co-owner of a tour company called Fly Key West, which on its Web site advertises "Mile High Club" tours for people who want to have sex in a plane.
"Come fly the very friendly skies," the Web site beckons. "Cleaner than a hotel room. Brand new Key West Mile High Club souvenir sheets on every flight."
The company offers a "Quickie" flight of 35 minutes for $199, up to $349 for a 55-minute sunset tour. It notes that flights will not be videotaped unless passengers ask for it. "Our voyeur cam is only in the plane by request."
The Miami Herald reported that the six-seat plane had been converted to a two-seater with a "lounge" area in the back with a privacy partition behind the cockpit.
A message on the answering machine of Fly Key West said: "We have suspended operations until further notice."
Struggle at Knifepoint
The company issued a statement through its lawyer today saying the male passenger pulled a knife on Hayashi, switched off the plane's avionics and ordered him to fly to Cuba. When the Piper approached Cuban airspace, the passenger refused to allow the pilot to turn on the radio to contact Cuban authorities and the struggle ensued, the statement said.
The Coast Guard said Hayashi issued a distress call about 12:05 p.m. Thursday and the plane ditched 40 miles south of Key West. Rescue crews in a Coast Guard plane spotted one person in the water, dropped a life raft and then hoisted him aboard a helicopter.
The Coast Guard said its crews were at the crash scene only 21 minutes after the distress call to Key West's airport tower but did not see any sign of the plane or the two passengers.
"The pilot told the Coast Guard he did not believe they were able to get out of the plane," Petty Officer Robert Suddarth said.
The Key West Citizen, citing a Coast Guard official, reported that the pilot told investigators the passengers had inflated their life jackets while they were still inside the plane, contrary to routine advice.
Mystery Over Elderly Couple Remains
Orihuela said authorities were not certain if the aircraft and the bodies of the couple could be recovered. The Piper may have gone down in water up to 3,600 feet deep.
She said there were a lot of unanswered questions about the flight, including the identities of the couple.
"We have no reason to disbelieve the pilot's story," she said. "But we still need to look at it."
The Federal Aviation Administration said it would look into the qualifications of the pilot and the firm. But a spokeswoman said tour operators who leave an airport on short flights and return to the same field do not need to file flight plans or passenger lists.