RUDI DEKKERS UNwittingLY TRAINED THE 9/11 TERRORISTS who flew into the WTC in nY
Surviving Disaster: Think outside your box
Let me take just a few moments to tell you where I come from since you can already tell from my accent I am not from here!
My story is a typical one for America: I went from rags to riches through hard work. I was born into a poor and dysfunctional family, in the Dutch ghetto portion of Amsterdam. I was lucky though, and at some point, the father of a childhood friend saw my potential and mentored me in real estate. I was successful and after a while, I went into business for myself. I built spec houses, and I made millions.
I then found a great recreation activity: one day a friend took me flying in his airplane, and I fell in love with flying. I had never had that experience of freedom, and I loved the peace and the quiet. I took lessons, bought a little Cessna from KLM, because to rent a plane was expensive, so I thought i'll buy a airplane and then rent out, so I have my lessons for free, well I got my license, and that was my hobby from then on.
Now I had success, a hobby I loved, a great family, with three beautiful daughters and a beautiful wife and I felt proud to support them in grand style. Life was good.
At some point, I visited America, in 1984 to buy a twin engine airplane, a Piper Seneca, no I did not have a license for this type off plane, but same story, expensive, so I buy and rent out, and yes It worked again, wail visiting the USA and I immediately thought this was a great country, with so much space and so many friendly people and a real respect for business. I fell in love with this country and decided I wanted to live here so I came to the US with my family. The story, of course, is more complicated, and includes an adventure in selling computers about which I will tell you later, but I want to keep this part short.
Of course, I started flying now in the US, and after a while, I started a flight school, and then years after, I bought a flight school, Huffman Aviation, so now I had two of them. I then realized through, the chartering of planes, that there was no airline with flights inside Florida, so started an airline, easier said than done do.
That is where I was on 9/11
As soon as I became aware of the situation on 9/11, I immediately realized that President Bush was in Sarasota, very close to where we were, about 10 miles, and I called the airport authority in Venice, to tell them to shut down the airport, but they were unresponsive to this common sense suggestion, and waited for the FAA order to close it down, hours later.
The rest of that day, we spent with all of us in the flight-school around the TV set, crying on and off. All of us pilots kept saying: a real pilot could NOT fly into a building! It goes against all your training.
On 9/12, I got an early morning call, from my secretary from Huffman Aviation, telling me she was at the flight school because the FBI had called. That is when I found out that the two pilots who flew into the World Trade Towers were our ex-students Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi. I raced to the school, from Naples to Venice, about 70 miles, and gave the FBI many additional pieces of information such as our hard drives to the computers they had used from the very beginning, the FBI treated me with complete respect, they were very professional and they told me they were grateful for my cooperation. The reason the world knew as much about the terrorists as quickly as they did, is because they had the information from our school files. By then the camera crews for the TV stations arrived and I started talking, to give Americans and the world all the information I had.
So let me go back in time and tell you about them.
I was standing in the lobby of my school in Venice, talking to my receptionist, on July 1st 2000, and I saw two men walk in. They were clearly of Middle Eastern descent, but they had on US clothing, jeans, t-shirt, sneakers. One was short, wiry, little bit older, frowning, the other was younger, heavy set, taller, he wore glasses and he was friendly looking. It was immediately clear that the shorter guy was the dominant one. They were looking around, and I walked up to them. The older one, Atta, told me, in perfect English, he was looking for a new flight school. They were students at a school in Sarasota, so they already knew how to fly but they were not happy there, and they were shopping around.
Now let me first answer a few of the questions that keep coming up. No: there was nothing unusual about any of this. Florida, and also Texas, had many flight schools, and what kept us all in business were our foreign students. We all had lots of students from northern Europe, for instance, because their bad weather makes flying impossible for many days of the year and Florida has perfect weather most days and so you can complete your training more quickly. We also all had many, many students from Middle Eastern countries, because in those places the only place to learn to fly is the military. Therefore, if you do not have that opportunity, you miss out and you would have to come to the US to learn. In fact we had so many Muslim students through the years, that we had a special place in our school, with a thick rug, where they could quietly pray, facing Mecca, as required by their religion. It was natural for us to show them respect, and we were living in a multicultural environment.
There was also nothing strange about wanting to switch school, though it did not often happen. But imagine you are in a country far away, and you check out flight schools and programs on the internet, and you make a selection, and by the time you get there, it just isn’t quite like you imagined. Not so hard to imagine, right?
The summer, because of the heat, is our slow season in Florida, so it would be good for us if we had a few extra students. That is why I made time for them in my very busy day, and I gave them the tour. I showed them the planes, the hangers, the classrooms, the little restaurant, and I explained our program of which I was very proud. They seemed to like it and in the end, they told us that the main problem was housing. I told them that if they wanted to come I would make sure we fixed that. They said they wanted to think it over and they left.
They returned on July 3rd , and again, by chance, I saw them come in. They told me they had decided to come and study with us, if I could get them housing. I handed them over to my administrator to do the paperwork, and went to my bookkeeper who occasionally rented out rooms. He called his wife, she said ok, and I returned to the guys and told them they were all set. As a side note, they were so rude to the wife of my bookkeeper that they were asked to leave that situation, and then they rented an apartment on their own, but I did not find out about that situation until much later.
Again, there were no red flags here. Housing is always an issue for foreign students, and at some point I had a small apartment building to provide housing. Administratively everything was fine too. There is a persistent rumor that I should have been suspicious because they paid in cash. Actually, most foreign students DID pay in cash: they would cash the traveler checks their parents sent and give us the money, so actually, THAT would have been normal. However, these two guys paid with checks, from an American bank where they had a checking account. In addition, we helped them to apply for the appropriate student visa, and as per the law, they were allowed to study while the paperwork was pending. As a side note there: nobody from any government agency contacted us to say these guys were no good, though we now know they were on a watch list, and 6 months after 9/11,
The US government was happy to give them their student visas!!
This when President Bush came on TV and said that he was very mad.
Atta and Al-Shehhi were mediocre and difficult students and none of us much liked them. My chief flight instructor wanted me to throw them out because they would not listen to there instructions and not treat him and the other instructor with respect, and I had complaints from some of the women that worked for me, that they were very rude. I had a talk with Atta, I set him straight, and told him that I would give him one more chance but both had to straighten out their attitude.
Things were better after that.
I thought that maybe they were rude because they felt isolated. So, since I had seen that Atta had studied in Germany, I thought maybe he would feel more welcome if I talked in German with him (which I speak because that is part of a normal Dutch education). So one morning I said ‘good morning how are you’ in German, and he froze, never said a word and walked away.
Again, they were cold fish, and they were rude, they were so so students, but everybody who has been a teacher has had difficulty students; there is nothing suspicious about that.
They also did not behave like devout Muslims. They would eat in our restaurant, and the fact that they fried pork products, such as sausages, on grill was apparently no problem for them. I later heard that they drank hard liquor in bars, both local and elsewhere. Both are violations of Quran commandments. As a side note: I come from an alcoholic family, so I don’t drink, and though there is a rumor on the Web that I went drinking with Atta, anybody who knows me, knows that this obviously cannot be true: I don’t go out drinking with anybody, and they said that we went to a nude bar, people come on, I’m from Amsterdam,
I grew up in the Jordaan, the old centre of Amsterdam.
I saw it all, did not need to go with Atta to do this.
After a few months, they were ready for their exams. We did the teaching but the FAA always gives the practical exams, and we can't and won't influence that. This means that students have to do a practical exam, flying a plane, taking off, flying to a point, landing, coming out various other situations.
Written and oral exams are about weather, instrumentation, general aeronautics etc.
There has been this idiotic idea that they could have gotten their license while only knowing how to turn left and right, but that is ridiculous. Moussaoui, who was the less intelligent terrorist, who did not attend my flight school, did in fact ask the wrong sorts of questions, and his flight instructor did consider that suspicious, and he was reported and arrested. But even HE did not ‘just ask to learn about turning’. There is no such thing.
Anyway, the FAA decided they were competent pilots. They were then licensed to rent planes, which they did from me. One day in December 2000, I got a call: they had flown to and landed at Miami International Airport and I had a complaint call from their tower. Unless you are a pilot, you cannot know how ridiculous this situation is: it is as if you allow a 17-year-old student driver, to drive in a NASCAR race! It is absurd. However, what was even worse was that they left one of my planes on the main taxiway because they claimed it was broken!
We all knew exactly what had happened: they were really not very bright pilots and we just knew that they had done there what they had done so often before, namely they had flooded the engine.
Then Atta called me, to complain about my plane and told me that they were taking a taxi back (about a $200) tab, and I should pay for that! I was furious, and told Atta to come in. When they came in, I told them to settle the money they owed me, and to never come back! They paid up and it was the last time I saw them. The plane in Miami was towed to one of their hangers, thoroughly checked out, by the FAA and there was of course nothing wrong with it, and one of my pilots flew it back.
There was no way for me, or any of my staff, to know these guys were terrorists. They were on a CIA terrorist watch list, but nobody contacted me or warned me, so why would I suspect anything?
But after 9/11, I was made a scapegoat by some people: I understand that people felt traumatized, scared and angry, and they wanted to blame somebody, and since I was speaking out, it was me. It was ridiculous of course, both Atta and Al- Shehhi already knew how to fly before they came to us, Mohammed Atta had a private pilot license, and Marwan Al-Sheihhi was solo. The real mystery to me continues to be why they studied all the subjects they had no use for, such as meteorology. And in case you are still wondering about that: if you ask at any small airport to be taken up for an orientation flight, the instructor will teach you how to turn right and left, you don’t need to go to school to learn that! The big question is Why get a complete commercial pilot license, to kill people?? I still don’t get this.
But all the attention, anger and blame directed at me destroyed my life as I had built it up until that point: I lost my health, became within 6 months diabetic 2, lost my schools, my money, my income, my marriage and somebody tried to kill me with my helicopter.
And yet I survived, and I want to talk to you about that, because, in your lives, something traumatic can also happen, even if not at all your fault.
It could be disease, an accident, tornado, tsunami, a flood, a disaster at work, downturn in economy or terrorist attack. I can now tell you from experience: the only way to survive disaster is to think outside of the box, it was why I was successful in business and it is the only reason I survived.
Let me tell you a few quick examples from my business life to illustrate what I mean by thinking outside the box
When I first came to America, I noticed that computers really were going to be the next big thing. In Holland, IBM had the whole market share and their computers were expensive. So I imported the components from the US, assembled them in Holland and had great, but much cheaper, computers, called my firm IMPAC, import American Computers, Big success, right? Wrong, nobody wanted them. Everybody was willing to buy the much more expensive IBM computers because it came with a 2-year guarantee! So I thought outside the box: I increased the price of the computer, still half of IBM,
Then I allowed people to buy my computer, half down, the rest no interest financed, for 2 years! Now people felt secure I was not selling them junk and my computers suddenly sold like hot cakes, made great money. Sold so good that a Royal Dutch Company, was interested in me, they where headhunting for me, they bought my company and I started working for them for a while.
Another example: after 9/11, all of us with flight schools were struggling, and I kept trying to think of out of the box ways to attract business. One of my profit centers was selling gas to pilots, so I started to create bonuses: if they bought so much gas they got a coupon for free food in my restaurant, or they could drive my Viper, which I had bought specifically for the purpose, for a few hours. But money was still very tight, and I could no longer buy a full truck of gas, so I thought out of the box and made an arrangement with another airport, so that I could buy a portion of their supply. It was very nice of him to do that and so I did get a few thousand gallons. Then the airport authority told me, you don’t have the right license to drive that tanker over the road. Out of the box again: I rented a trailer, and put the tanker on the trailer, just to keep going. Well, they shut that down as well at some point, but it did tide me over for a critical amount of time.
At some point after I sold Huffman Aviation in bits and pieces, and after the cartridge shop, I was looking for a business. I walked into a friend of me in Naples who was a pool builder, and he asked me if I would be interested in taking a job with him selling swimming pools. Because I was looking for something to do, I thought why not? I started and I sold my first pool within the first 2 weeks. I designed it and drew it, then more followed, and after about 3 months, I talked to my friend and said, I would like to have my own company building pools and I left on good terms. Now I had a new problem: to build pools you need to be a pool contractor, which takes about 1 year to study and then you have to pass a test. Well, that is no problem but then you need a minimum of 3 years experience in that field! Well I did not have that, but I really liked the pool business, so I came with the following idea. I became a consultant, because you don’t need any permits for that. I just got all the good sub-contractors together and coordinated them. I told the potential client, I will get all the quotes from different sub contractors, I will check them out, I will show you the quotes, and you pay me to do all this for a fee. Well I became very successful and sold about 4-6 pools per month, while I earned about $ 5000 per pool, the clients paid a total of $25000 instead of $40000, so everybody happy. Well, everybody except the competition! When the economy went into a freefall, nobody wanted to buy swimming pools anymore, and I had to think outside the box once again.
Now I know this “thinking outside the box” is much easier said than done! You have to learn this, well that’s way you are here.
But Let me tell you from my own experience How to think outside the box it in 4 steps
First of all: Believe in yourself and make your own decisions.
Your high self-esteem is absolutely crucial when you are facing a tough time and you have to know deep in your gut that nobody will rescue you: not your spouse, not your family, your friends or the government, and you should not expect it. You can, and you should, ask for help, but you have to act as if the answer and solution will always need to come from inside of you because you are worth it. Never lose sight of that. Although it is good to get a lot of information so you can make a good decision, don’t just blindly take the advice from someone. Think: is this the best advice for me? You are different and what works for you is not what would work for them.
This is what happened to me, on the day after 9/11, when I had just heard that our two former students were the terrorists we had watched the day before. I was driving to Venice to meet the FBI at my office, and I got a phone call from a spokesman from the FBI Tampa field office. He said to me: Mr.Dekkers, I understand that you are going to your office right now, and there will be many reporters today. I would like to advise you not to speak to the press. I asked him immediately: is this law? Do I have to obey you? He was flabbergasted, and it took him a few second to respond! I guess he did not expect a person not to blindly obey the FBI. I told him, this is such a terrible thing, that if I would not speak and tell the world everything I possibly could, then in my opinion, the public would crucify me. So I told him, sorry: but I will talk. That was in my best interest and I think it was the right thing to do. Make your own decision, do what is best for you in your circumstances and, of course, don’t break the law.
Second, remember the 80/20 rule. Don’t dwell on your negative emotions: yes, it might be unfair; I understand you feel anger, maybe you truly are a victim, but sitting in those emotions will not help. So apply the 80/20 rule: take yourself in hand and spend 20% of the time to define the problem and then spend 80% of your time brainstorming solutions. Focus your energy on the solution.
Thirdly you must ACT. When you are in crisis it is easy to freeze, but you must try implementing the best solution you can find, and if that does not work, try something else. You must act. Do whatever it takes: do research, ask for help, reach out, brainstorm on paper, go make calls, contact old clients, talk to your competition, find new doctors, or talk to mentors. You must keep moving, over and over again until you find a solution to get you out. Trial and error are always an important part of your business life.
After I closed Florida Air Share, This after Huffman Aviation, I spent about 6 months thinking and researching and deciding what to next, and after a while, I found an idea. I decided to start a printer cartridge refill shop and make it into a franchise. I started up the business, called it Cartridge Total Shop, and it looked very promising.
I bought the franchise documents etc. but within 6 months after I started, I saw that Walgreens, and other big stores were doing the same thing. I thought it over and I decided that I did not want to continue with a model that’s not going to work, and I did not wanted to have just one store so I moved on again.
Some people have called that a failure but I consider that a success, because I made money, I supported my family and I learned. As long as I am doing that, I am a success. Remember: no single or multiple failures are ever a good enough excuse to give up, but don’t fight losing battles.
Before I tell you the fourth and probably most important thing of all, let me tell you one final story:
At some point, the business was almost gone, and I negotiated a sale of my flight school. I was going to fly my helicopter from Naples, Florida to Venice for the closing that morning. I am a very careful pilot and I did a complete check of the helicopter, just as I always do. I have known careless people and I have been to their funerals, so I am always careful. The day was memorable, because it was exceptionally cold and I put on my leather jacket to stay warm.
Everything checked out fine and I turned north from the airport, and started to fly over the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers. About 600 feet over the river, and this river is about 2 miles with, the motor stops, and the helicopter yanked to the left, and then I see on my instruments that I have no gasoline left. I know this cannot be true but I have no time to think about it. I know I am going down.
The way the training goes in the US, you are taught that if you are going to crash a helicopter in water you should enter the water at an angle, to stop the blades, when they hit the water.. However, I had some advanced training from a British Air Force trainer, and he told me, that this is the exact reason why so few people survive: the blades snap off when hitting the water and slice through the cockpit.
So I hit the water flat and the breath I took in immediately left my body from the impact. And because the helicopter is top heavy, it turns upside down and came to rest at the bottom of the river. I now had to get out but I could not get the seatbelt off: the water has glued the belt to my leather jacket. There I was: upside down in the helicopter on bottom of river, glued to the seatbelt. My wife is ready to leave me, my girls are young adults, so they will be alright, my health is ruined from all the stress, and my fortune is gone,
but I had a life insurance for $5 million.
I realized, calmly: this is the end and frankly, I was ready to die, I would leave my children with money.
Suddenly I thought of Brooke. Brooke is my wonderful little granddaughter, born exactly a year after 9/12 the day my life took a nosedive. And I realized I wanted to live for her.
At his point, if I was going to survive I HAD to think outside of my box
I unzipped the jacket, and slide out my jacked, and that is how I got out of the helicopter. By the way, of course, later on I found that somebody had cut the fuel line, and they meant me to crash and die. You can read the rest of this whole story in the book, but I tell you this part of it, because it is the 4th,and last, and most important point
Know WHY you want to live
even if everything else has gone to pieces. Write it down if you must, but if I wake you up in the middle of the night and ask you why do you want to live, you need to know that answer. If I had not wanted to live, I would not have had the discipline to think outside my box, and I would have died at the bottom of the river. Whoever wanted to kill me would have succeeded, not because my leather jacket was glued to my seatbelt, but because I had given up on my own life.
All of us will have things happen to us, that is just life, and some of them will not directly be our fault, and they were unavoidable. But if you know why you want to live, and you will believe in yourself, force yourself to focus on the solution and then you must act. And that will save your life.
And ladies and gentlemen, the only difference between a success full person and a none successful person is that the successful person tried one more time.
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