| Home | Books and Gifts | Photo Album | Mob Busters | Mafia Site Search |
Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Americans training terrorists

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
April 12, 2004

I operated the flight school at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas from 1974 through 1982. Steve's Flying Service, Inc. (SFS) was the last professional flight training facility to be located at McCarran. My company's goal was to train pilots intending to enter airline or military flying careers. I advertised the company in magazines that had worldwide circulation including Pilot and Flying, therefore we attracted an international clientele wanting to be trained at one of America's busiest airline facilities.

Immediately following the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, my school began receiving inquiries from prospective students in Middle Eastern countries. They wanted to know the availability of instructors and equipment to take them through the courses that would qualify them to be commercial or military pilots in their countries. Most were not concerned with the cost which at that time was in excess of $15,000.  They seemed most concerned with how long the courses would take and how close we were to the Strip hotels.

In the meantime, Americans were waiting in line to buy gasoline, our nation was sinking into a recession, and oil rich nations were becoming burgeoning empires of unbelievable wealth.

One of the first students who arrived from the Middle East wanted me to be his personal teacher and offered to pay higher rates to be taught by the Chief Flight Instructor, a responsibility I shared with being the owner of the company.

As Chief Instructor it was my responsibility to take flight instructors-in-training along on flights as observers. Going along on this flight were my wife, and a commercial pilot working on his flight instructor rating.

The the young man arrived at the scheduled time. I proceeded to interview him with the customary questions about his background and motivation for wanting to learn to fly. He answered all my questions satisfactorily.

He explained that he had just become a minister in a Muslim ministry in Los Angeles and that he wanted to be able to commute between Las Vegas and LA to perform his ministerial duties in both cities. His reason for learning to fly seemed logical so we proceeded to the airplane parked on the ramp just outside the school.

The man was very calm as the four of us walked along and chatted about the whether. He asked numerous questions about the airplanes we walked past on our way to the waiting Piper Warrior. It seemed like just another day in the life of a flight instructor.

My wife had ridden along on several introductory flights, and enjoyed the half-hour experience that took us at low altitude over the city of Las Vegas. The flight instructor trainee who accompanied us was days away from taking his final exam and wanted to observe my method of selling the expensive Private Pilot course to a prospective customer.

We entered the cockpit and I placed my customer in the left seat or captain's position as is customary when acquainting a student with the controls of an airplane for the first time. The passengers settled down in the rear seats.

I asked my customer to put his feet lightly on the rudder pedals and his hands lightly on the control wheel to feel the movements of the controls during taxi and take off -- he complied. We took our position in line for take off behind a group of airliners waiting at the end of runway 19L.

After several minutes the tower cleared us for takeoff to the South, we began rolling. The man had a distant look in his eyes as we began to develop speed on takeoff, but everything still seemed routine.

I once again cautioned my potential customer to let his hands and feet rest lightly on the controls to better understand how they function in takeoff and flight. I cautioned him to not apply any pressures to the controls unless I instructed him to do so. He nodded in compliance and starred straight ahead down the runway.

The Piper lifted into the cool blue sky, then as we flew above the airport, the man's eyes opened fully and with all his strength he abruptly pushed the control wheel forward until it loudly hit the panel with his arms locked in a death grip! We were going straight down with only a few seconds left before impact!

I pulled back with all of my strength on the right control wheel as the student-instructor grabbed the man's neck in a choke hold. The airplane suddenly leveled out just as it hit the asphalt. I retarded the throttle and slammed on the brakes. The plane bounced and then skidded to a noisy stop.

The tower dispatched fire engines though there was no fire and just minor damage to the landing gear. Later that day, upon further examination our mechanic discovered that we had severely bent the controls by pulling and pushing at the same time.

Unlike the Egypt Air Boeing 747 that dove into the Atlantic about 60 miles south of Nantucket Island at the hands of a madman on October 31, 1999, light airplanes have both control yokes solidly connected together. When one unit moves so does the other.

The man who allegedly wanted to be a pilot had inexplicably attempted to take his own life along with three innocent persons and possibly others on the ground.

In attempting to explain to FAA officials the cause of our unannounced controlled crash, I learned that there is no law prohibiting what had almost occurred during a training flight. I had no other choice but to let the man who probably tried to end our lives, walk away unpunished.

As the student instructor and I walked the man to his car, he would not respond to our repeated questions about what had just occurred, he just starred straight ahead. I tried to control my natural urge to grant him his wish to become some kind of martyr.

The student instructor had less control and suddenly grabbed the man and tried to strangle him again! I somehow found myself defending the thwarted assassin because I did not want him to have his death wish fulfilled at the expense of my friend's freedom.

After the brief altercation, the stranger departed never to be seen again.

Back in the office, I wished aloud that he had left a suicide note to prove my point. Otherwise how could I have proved that murder/suicide was his actual intention? He might have just said he had panicked and did not recall pushing the controls forward.

I only now truly understand what may have really happened to EgyptAir Flight 990, and the similarities between the two men involved. Maybe the man in my story was the same guy who did-in EgyptAir nineteen years later? I'll never know.

Today, I can't help but read every detail of aircraft accident reports. Each time the unexplainable happens, I flash back to those horrible moments over McCarran Airport when that man's eyes opened so wide and he slammed the airplane's control yokes against their forward stops.

Since 9-11, flight schools throughout the United States have become more aware of their students. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration has stepped in, rightfully so, to require extensive screening of all student pilots applicants who hail from Middle Eastern countries.

Since I was one of the hapless instructor pilots who experienced a potential suicide by aircraft, I hate to say that I actually know what it must have felt like to be on board that EgyptAir flight on that eventful night.

Following this incident and until I sold the company in 1982, I became suspicious every time someone from the Middle East inquired about flight training. We found their motivation to be unclear. The other instructors at SFS also had reservations about accepting Middle Eastern students.

To bolster our suspicions, one day months after the aborted suicide, several young Kuwaiti men stood in my office throwing $100 bills on my desk after I refused to serve them. I returned their money and asked them to leave. After exiting the building, the men told SFS personnel that they wanted to learn to fly so they could bomb Americans like us.

Though we were anything but racists, the company eventually declined to train persons from Middle Eastern nations as policy, a policy set long before 9-11. I knew I had done the right thing.

Unfortunately since that time, other aviation companies discovered how lucrative it was to take on students with questionable backgrounds and motivation.

We are now paying the consequences.

* If you would like to receive Steve's frequent E-Briefs about Las Vegas' scandals, click here:

Copyright © Steve Miller

email Steve Miller at:
div. of PLR International
P.O. Box 19146
Cleveland, OH 44119-0146
216 374-0000

Copyright © 1998 - 2004 PLR International