Chinese student is kidnapped and beaten by US pilot who wanted to send him ‘back to China’, police say
Shi Tianshu was attending a California flight school on a student visa. Police have not explained why he was singled out by a pair of instructors who tried to send him ‘back to China’
California police say they thwarted a vigilante deportation attempt last week – in which a pilot allegedly kidnapped a foreign student, took him to an airport and tried to send him “back to China”.
Jonathan McConkey, a pilot and certified flight instructor, is accused of orchestrating the kidnapping with his assistant, Kelsi Hoser, a ground instructor. Both reportedly worked at the flight training school in Redding, California, belonging to IASCO, which calls itself “the aviation industry’s preeminent flight crew leasing and training company”.
Among IASCO’s students were dozens of Chinese nationals with student visas, according to court records. KRCR News 7 reported that the school contracted with China’s civil aviation authority to train its new pilots, one of whom was alleged victim Shi Tianshu.
Shi told reporters that he had been in the United States for about seven months – living with several other IASCO trainees at an apartment in Redding. It was there, police said, that McConkey and Hoser came for him.
The pair first showed up at the apartment on Thursday night, according to a police statement. They allegedly informed Shi that they were sending him back to China and would return in the morning.
Police have not explained why anyone would want Shi gone from the country, but say the two returned to the apartment around dawn on Friday to carry out their would-be deportation.
When Shi refused to go with them, police said, McConkey “battered” him and threatened physical violence.
McConkey grabbed Shi roughly by the arm, the student told the Record Searchlight, and said he needed to get on a plane now or face worse violence. “He’s very rude,” a visibly shaken Shi recalled to the newspaper. “Used too much dirty words.”
But before Shi was taken from his home, he managed to call his brother in Shanghai and ask for help. His brother tried to call Shi back but couldn’t reach him. Shi was by then being driven several miles to the municipal airport, where the flight school kept its planes.
So Shi’s brother phoned Redding police, who scrambled to the airport and rescued the student before his accused abductors could put him on a plane. The pair’s plan, Shi told the Searchlight, had been to fly him to the Bay Area, then put him on another plane to China.
McConkey and Hoser were arrested and charged with conspiracy and kidnapping. They were being held on US$100,000 bail each as of Friday, according to KRCR News 7, and could not be immediately reached.
The incident has left Shi distraught, the Searchlight reported, and grappling to convey the trauma of the event in his limited English. But he conveyed gratitude plainly enough. “The police officer is the best American,” Shi told the newspaper.
An unrelated lawsuit, filed last year by a former instructor, alleges that some of IASCO’s Chinese students spoke so little English that they could not safely fly – that one had nearly crashed into another plane because he had misunderstood his teacher’s instructions.
Those allegations predate Shi’s training, however. And the lawsuit does not mention Hoser or McConkey, who is reportedly a 48-year-old manager at the school.