Saturday, April 25, 2009

Suicide By Cop F-16

You probably already know about the 31-year-old Canadian who stole a Cessna 172 from a flying school in Thunder Bay and headed south across Lake Superior to the US, where he was intercepted by but did not respond to American F-16 fighter jets. He landed of his own accord on a road in Missouri, where he parked the airplane under a bridge and ran on foot to a convenience store where he bought a Gatorade and chatted with locals until the police came in and got him. This CBC story has less information but includes photographs of both Adam Leon and the airplane.

His story is that he wanted to commit suicide, but couldn't bring himself to harm himself, so planned his cross-border foray in order to goad the Americans into shooting him down. Some news stories say that he had been treated for depression and left a good-bye note for his girlfriend or a suicide note near the hangar.

I can picture his well-meaning flight instructor teaching him to ensure he has a transponder code and two-way radio contact with ATC when in close proximity to the US border. "If you don't," the flight instructor could easily have said, "the Americans may scramble intercept jets, and if you do not tune 121.5 and do exactly as they ask, they have the right to shoot you down for entering their airspace." Is there a Canadian flight instructor who hasn't given such a warning to students who will be flying near or crossing the border on a cross-country flight? Adam would probably also have known where to find the intercept signals in the CFS, to understand and respond to intercepting aicraft without the use of a radio.

My favourite little detail was that Adam reportedly landed with thirty minutes of fuel remaining. Maybe it was a coincidence, but I like to think that his flight instructor drilled air law into him so thoroughly that even while suicidally defying an international boundary and armed jets, he couldn't disobey the mandate to land with half an hour of gas in his tanks.

Serious credit must go to the American military for their measured reaction to the incident. The population is very easily frightened by things like this. They evacuated the Senate in Wisconsin, after all. But no one got shot down, or shot at all. The guy was arrested for the only crimes he had actually committed: transporting stolen property and illegally entering the country. The FBI found no links to terrorism in his background. He'll likely be sent back to Canada. (Good thing he wasn't an American picked up by the RCMP in Canada. They probably would have tasered him to death). Given a history of depression and a self-confessed suicide attempt, he will lose his Canadian medical and possibly never get it back, so he'll need a new career.

The accompanying conspiracy theory is that rather than being a mentally ill flight student, he's an Islamic terrorist testing the system. He immigrated to Canada from Turkey last year, and used to be named Yavuz Berke. Did his six hours in the Falcons' gunsights give him a chance to think things over and return to a rational appreciation for life, such that the strangest thing the Missourians noticed about him was that he asked to use a "washroom" instead of a "bathroom"? (What's up with that, anyway? Is that something Missourian? Bathroom, washroom, toilet, restroom ... would any of these mark someone as "not from around here, are you?" in your community?)

An argument the linked blog entry didn't notice is that Adam Leon spent money in Missouri. While Americans in border states may accept Canadian bills, Misourri is too far south to be considered a border state, and you can't give someone two dollars or just barely have enough to buy a Gatorade in Canadian bills. The smallest bill is a five. So he was carrying a few dollars in US cash. Just enough to pay for a lift and a snack while waiting to be arrested. Or maybe he had a few bucks US in his wallet because he had a post box in Grand Marais, Michigan for ordering things on the internet. Like plutonium?

I also liked the informational paragraph one article had on the C172. It has a maximum cruise speed of 233 kilometres an hour and a range of 1,130 km. It's true, but it makes it sound so fast!


Anonymous said...

I don't live in Missouri, but washroom definitely would mark you as "not from around here". Restroom and bathroom, fine. Toilet, washroom, WC, etc are unusual enough to be noticeable. Even the more nautical "head" would probably draw less attention though some people might not know what the heck you were talking about.

Matt said...

I love conspiracy theories! They're almost always worth a laugh. Either at the theory, the people who perpetuate it, or both! Some people (in ALL countries) just have some logic center missing, and, mean as it may be, I think nature allows us to laugh at them.

I'm glad this story doesn't hold much water outside of the interwebs, where anyone can write anything and be "believable." The problem with logical fallacies, is that they contain the word "logic."

jinksto said...

As far as how to get a Gatorade in a foreign country... Visa is your friend. I've used my "debit" card to by things in pretty much any country that I've been. Though it pulls money directly from my checking account the Visa logo gets it accepted in every country that I've ever been in.

Aviatrix said...

The articles made it clear that he had jut enough cash for the Gatorade, but not enough for Gatorade and beef jerky.

Ward said...

You've spent a lot of time in the US but haven't noticed that they don't say "washroom?" When we talk about US/Canadian differences, we joke that saying "washroom" to an American is like saying "excuse me, I need to go and (fill in some excessively graphic description of a bowel movement)"

Wirelizard said...

I know a lot of fellow Canucks who wander around with a few Yankee-bucks in their wallet - comes of most of us living within spitting distance of the border.

Is "washroom" really such a Canadianism? I *know* I've asked for "the washroom" whilst in the States, and can't say I've gotten any really funny looks for it.

To actually comment on Aviatrix's original article: Glad the various authorities are actually acting with restraint for once, vis a vis criminal charges. Also, excellent dig at the RCMP, but remember that this guy, whatever his crime, wasn't Polish, and therefore probably wasn't eligable for the RCMP's free Tasering offer at airports...

Unknown said...

" Yavuz Berke."

you really COULDN'T make it up!

In UK, A "Berk" is someone who does something idiotic, dumb, stupid.

As for the lavatory, bog, khazi or Loo....
3 countries joined by a common language?

ZD said...


I believe it is, ( I could be wrong),

Three countries separated by a common language.


Aviatrix said...

Re: washroom. It's difficult to notice what words someone doesn't say, unless the words they are using to replace them are strange to you. Restroom and washroom are to me euphemisms equally removed from the business the person intends to carry out within. Restroom maybe comes off a little more formal than washroom, but neither is marked.

Sarah said...

Words & language again... euphemisms and slang are always fun. My favorite ruder UKisms are "bog" and "loo". (Are they still in use?) In the US midwest the polite one is "restroom", or "toilet" if you're more direct. Or, "bafroom" if you're 4 years old... best done with a twisting-in-place dance. Asking for a "washroom" would work too, but it's uncommon enough someone would pause and wonder, but probably not call the police.

I find the conspiracy theories amusing, though a little xenophobic / racist for my comfort. Not every Muslim or dark-skinned furriner is a terrist for God's sake.

It's not surprising that the "final act" would be hard to do... I'm really glad no one was forced to finish him off. And, I'm happy his training kicked in enough for a safe 30-minute fuel remaining landing on a road! I bet he didn't have any maps and couldn't have found an airport if he wanted to.

I hope Adam gets some help. In spite of what they say, it's never painless.

Anonymous said...

Obviously Adam was trying to link up with the al-kamikaze Canada Goose squad but couldn't find them.

In Britain if you ask for a bathroom they'll apologise for only having a shower to offer you. "Washroom" means a multi-user single-sex industrial WC.
"Bog" and "loo" certainly are still in use, they're too ancient to disappear overnight.

Callsign Echo said...

Anonymous said..."Obviously Adam was trying to link up with the al-kamikaze Canada Goose squad but couldn't find them."

LOL finally a logical explanation.

Yes, washroom is understood 'round these parts--we've heard it enough on British comedies and BBC. But it is decidedly not in American vernacular. I disagree with Ward, I don't think it's graphic, it's just unmistakably foreign.

The suicidal young man is very lucky, and we in the States are even luckier. Though they would have been well within their rights (and probably their rules of engagement) to shoot him down, having our military shoot down a civilian aircraft is a milestone I think none of us want to reach.

Here's hoping our men and women in uniform continue to show such restraint (without putting themselves in danger, of course).

keisha4 said...

I thought he hitched a ride from someone to the convenient store? And the person who gave him a lift was also the one who gave him the $2 he had to buy Gatorade.

I believe I read it somewhere, but I must be mistaken. =)

If they sent armed choppers instead of F-16s, the military could've saved a lot more in fuel and effort. They wouldn't have had to pass him every time and go around.

Aviatrix said...

Keisha4 is right.

I misread the story as saying that the hitchhiker gave the driver $2 rather than the other way around. Nice folks those Missourians, to give a stranger a ride and some cash.

I suppose a farmer in Turkey would probably give me a ride and some falafel if I was stranded along his road.

keisha4 said...

Nice people in MO.. If I had to do a forced landing, I'd go to Missouri. At least I know that I'd get a drink when I land and the cops would show up right away.

By the way, thanks, Aviatrix, for your blog. I learn bits and pieces about flying here in Canada. Stuff that we don't normally learn from ground schooling or pilot training. =)