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Missing plane’s pilot had only student license

Date: 12/17/2008

Associated Press Writer

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The pilot of a plane that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle with 11 passengers aboard had only a U.S. student pilot license and should have never been allowed to fly, Dominican authorities said Wednesday.

Adriano Jimenez had been stripped of his Dominican license in 2006 because he was caught flying multiengine planes when he was only authorized to fly helicopters, said Pedro Dominguez, president of the Dominican Pilots Association. Two weeks ago, he had a minor accident while landing a small plane at a Dominican airport.

“An in-depth investigation was never opened to prevent what today we are lamenting,” Dominguez said.

Jimenez loaded 11 passengers onto a twin-engine plane in Santiago, Dominican Republic, on Monday and filed a flight plan for a landing in Mayaguana Island in the Bahamas, but he never arrived, according to the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute.

Jimenez sent an emergency signal about 35 minutes after takeoff and then disappeared from the radar. He was flying in low visibility over rough seas, according to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena.

U.S. Coast Guard crews suspended their search Wednesday night after scouring about 5,300 sq. miles (13,727 sq. kilometers) without turning up any sign of the plane or its passengers, said Guard spokesman Lt. Matt Moorlag in Miami.

The plane went missing in the Bermuda Triangle, a zone of the Atlantic Ocean noted for a supposedly high number of unexplained losses of small boats and aircraft.

The U.S. Coast Guard says the mysteries can usually be attributed to storms that flare up quickly and to swift, Gulf Stream currents that wash away evidence of wreckage.

“Overall, the U.S. Coast Guard is not impressed with supernatural explanations of disasters at sea,” Moorlag said.

The missing aircraft’s owner, Luis Perez of Puerto Rico, said he hired a pilot to fly the BN2A MK III Trislander to the Dominican Republic so that Jimenez, a potential buyer, could inspect it.

The pilot who was supposed to fly the plane with Jimenez at his side refused to do so when Jimenez arrived at the airport with 11 passengers, according to Luis Irizarry, an attorney for Perez’ company. He said Jimenez then took the plane himself without authorization.

Jimenez, 43, received a U.S. student pilot license in March, according to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration records.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

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