REDDING, CA (AP) — Two employees of a Northern California flight school were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping a student pilot and trying to send him back to his native China, authorities said.
Jonathan McConkey, general manager at IASCO Flight Training, and his assistant, Kelsi Hoser, were taken into custody May 25 at the municipal airport in Redding, police said.
Tianshu Shi, a trainee in the United States on a student visa, sustained minor injuries during the alleged kidnapping, investigators said.
McConkey and Hoser showed up at Shi’s apartment the evening of May 24 and told him he was going to be “shipped back” to China the following morning, said Redding Police Corporal Rob Peterson.
Shi had enrolled in the program through an organization that contracts with the school to train Chinese nationals, Peterson told the Los Angeles Times. The Civil Aviation Authority of China sends up to 180 students to the program, according to the school’s website.
The next day the pair returned to Shi’s apartment and told him to pack his bags.
Shi told the Record Searchlight he didn’t sleep all night and when they returned, he recorded the confrontation. The profanity-filled audio clip was obtained by the newspaper.
“I’ve got your (expletive) passport. You’re leaving now,” a male voice says in the recording. He later adds, “The United States government needs you out of this country right now, you understand?”
“You are here illegal, you know that,” a female voice says later. “If you don’t go with us, you go to jail.”
It wasn’t known Monday if McConkey or Hoser had attorneys who could comment on their behalf.
During the conversation, Peterson said, McConkey shoved Shi into a countertop, knocking him to the floor. Fearing for his safety, Shi got in their car, authorities said.
At some point, Shi managed to contact his brother in Shanghai and told him what was going on. When the brother didn’t hear back from Shi a short time later, he spoke to another flight school student who said Shi had been assaulted and kidnapped. Shi’s brother then called Redding police.
Officers found Shi, McConkey and Hoser at Redding Municipal Airport, about 7 miles (11 kilometers) from his apartment. Hoser told police they were sending Shi back to China because his English wasn’t strong enough to safely communicate with the air traffic control tower, Peterson said.
They also told police they cut him from the program in April, but Shi said he was still in the program in May, Peterson said, calling the incident bizarre and confusing.
McConkey and Hoser could face charges including conspiracy and kidnapping, police said. Both were released from custody after posting bail, according to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office.
Shi told the Record Searchlight he has been in the country for about seven months on a one-year visa for students who enroll in vocational programs. He told the newspaper his university paid about $70,000 for him to train at the Redding flight school. For the past two months, he said he has been “grounded,” unable to fly or train.
“I can’t speak English well in life, but I can speak English well with air traffic control,” he told the newspaper.