M I A M I, Aug. 10, 2001 -- An elderly couple who chartered asmall plane on the pretext of having sex in the sky died whenthe plane plunged into the sea off the Florida Keys after theytried to hijack it to Cuba, U.S. authorities said today.
The unidentified couple scuffled with the pilot when thePiper Cherokee was about 40 miles south of Key West,sending the small plane plunging into deep water in the FloridaStraits between Key West and Cuba, the pilot told agentsinvestigating the alleged hijacking attempt.
The pilot, Thomas Hayashi, 36, managed to scramble out ofthe sinking plane and suffered only cuts and bruises. But theman and woman apparently were trapped.
"This is what the pilot is telling us," FBI Agent JudyOrihuela said. "An elderly Cuban couple in their 60s askedto be taken on a 'Mile High' tour. Once they were up in theair … they demanded to be taken to Cuba.
"There was a scuffle and the pilot tried to maneuver theplane. The man fell on the throttle and made it so that he [thepilot] 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 planein the Florida Keys recently. On July 31, American pizzadelivery man Milo John Reese took off on a flying lesson in aCessna and ended up crashing the plane on a beach in Cuba. Hewas charged with transporting a stolen plane.
Local media said Hayashi was the co-owner of a tour companycalled Fly Key West, which on its Web site advertises "MileHigh 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 Clubsouvenir 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 thatflights 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 beenconverted to a two-seater with a "lounge" area in the back witha 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 todaysaying the male passenger pulled a knife on Hayashi, switchedoff the plane's avionics and ordered him to fly to Cuba. Whenthe Piper approached Cuban airspace, the passenger refused toallow the pilot to turn on the radio to contact Cubanauthorities and the struggle ensued, the statement said.
The Coast Guard said Hayashi issued a distress call about12:05 p.m. Thursday and the plane ditched 40miles south of Key West. Rescue crews in a Coast Guardplane spotted one person in the water, dropped a life raft andthen hoisted him aboard a helicopter.
The Coast Guard said its crews were at the crash scene only21 minutes after the distress call to Key West's airport towerbut did not see any sign of the plane or the two passengers.
"The pilot told the Coast Guard he did not believe theywere able to get out of the plane," Petty Officer RobertSuddarth said.
The Key West Citizen, citing a Coast Guard official,reported that the pilot told investigators the passengers hadinflated their life jackets while they were still inside theplane, contrary to routine advice.
Mystery Over Elderly Couple Remains
Orihuela said authorities were not certain if the aircraftand the bodies of the couple could be recovered. The Piper mayhave gone down in water up to 3,600 feet deep.
She said there were a lot of unanswered questions about theflight, including the identities of the couple.
"We have no reason to disbelieve the pilot's story," shesaid. "But we still need to look at it."
The Federal Aviation Administration said it would look intothe qualifications of the pilot and the firm. But a spokeswomansaid tour operators who leave an airport on short flights andreturn to the same field do not need to file flight plans orpassenger lists.