by Daniel Hopsicker
13 November 2001 — Venice, Florida.

The first thing you notice about the airport in Venice Florida is that there is a Flying Trapeze planted down at the end of one of the runways. It is a strange juxtaposition.

While taking off or landing, the terrorist student pilots practicing ‘touch and go’s’ could look over and see tightrope walkers or aerialists dancing high above the ground while practicing gravity-defying stunts, at a circus school which is a vestige of Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus, which used to make its winter home here.

Come to Venice. Join the Flying Circus. Become a Human Missile.

Until Rudi Dekkers bought Huffman Aviation, Venice, Florida was best known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World. But the flight training given to terrorists out at the local airport has now changed all that, and thrust this sleepy burg into the middle of one of American History’s worst nightmares.

Within hours of the September 11 attack authorities concluded that the terrorist pilots had shown such unusual skill in maneuvering commercial airliners toward their targets that at least one hijacker on each jet must have been trained right here in the U.S.

They were right.

Cut to Venice, Florida. Middle of the night.

The FBI swarms. Local police do the grunt work. Under bright klieg lights they carry away boxes upon boxes of records from Rudi Dekkers flight school. Remember Rudi?

“I don’t need anything from you, just a check to start flying,” said Dekkers, who likened flying lessons to shopping for groceries. “We’re just a business.”

The next day, the FBI is back again at the Venice Airport, this time down the block at Arne Kruithof’s flight school.

“It’s really just coincidence that terrorists chose such a place (as Venice) to be their training ground for the unspeakable,” says Venice City Manager George Hunt.

Determining whether that statement is true is complicated by the fact that the FBI has confiscated everything in sight looking remotely like evidence.

And the FBI isn’t talking.

“The FBI took all our files, everything,” said one local law enforcement official, after shaking his head ruefully when we asked if Rudi had any local ‘priors.’ He shrugs. He can’t tell. His files are now All Gone.

“They loaded two Ryder trucks right outside that (police station) window, then drove them right onto a C130 military cargo plane at Sarasota airport which flew out with Jeb Bush aboard.”

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