Denfeld News

April 8, 2009
Eyewitness News

148th pilots follow stolen plane
By Kim Johnson

Two of the fighter pilots who attempted to intercept a stolen plane Monday are from the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth.

It was an average day of training for captains T.J. Rendulich of Duluth and Alek Lied from Port Wing … until about 3:30 p.m.

That’s when they got the call to monitor a Cessna 172. It had been stolen from a flight school at the Thunder Bay Airport and was flying near Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

"Our first mission was to ID him, make sure it was in fact the airplane that was stolen," said Rendulich. Sure enough, it was.

The pilot, Adam Leon, 31, a student from the Canadian flight school, was headed south.

"We tried to get a hold of him several ways," said Lied. The pilots followed orders from the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

"They did tell us to go ahead and get up close enough to look in the cockpit to see if he was doing anything," said Lied. "You could tell there was a single person in the aircraft and he kind of waved at me actually."

The fighter pilots tried using an emergency frequency to communicate with Leon, but got no response. Then they tried other signals.

"If you want to tell someone to land you go up to the aircraft, you put your gear down signaling 'Hey we want you to land at a nearby airport'," said Lied. "We can rock our wings and if the aircraft acknowledges our presence they can give us wing rock back. We never did get that."

Running low on fuel after two hours in the air, the 148th handed the mission to the Wisconsin Air National Guard. After a six-hour chase spread out over three states, Leon eventually landed on a dirt road in Missouri and was arrested.

A state trooper says Leon was on a mission to get shot down in a suicide attempt. He was transferred Tuesday morning to a Missouri facility for federal suspects where he is being held without bond.

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