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Plane controversy grounded

Flight transported Missouri St. football team, not immigrants, to Youngstown

An airplane that Fox News and The New York Post claims secretly is flying underage migrants to parts of the United States landed at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, but evidence shows the stop was not to transport migrants here but rather to take home the Missouri State football team after its Oct. 9 loss to the Youngstown State University Penguins.

A segment broadcast Tuesday on Fox News indicated the flight plan of a World Atlantic Airlines charter aircraft apparently departed McAllen, Texas, at 6:30 a.m. Friday, and throughout the day, landed in various cities, including Villahermosa, Mexico; El Paso, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Westchester, N.Y. The New York Post also reported it witnessed migrants being deplaned overnight at the Westchester, N.Y., airport.

The Fox News broadcast went on to report the same aircraft also has flown “sometime over the past month” to Abilene, Kansas; Youngstown; Springfield, Mo.; and Lexington, Kentucky.

Regarding those charter flights, Fox News anchor Eric Shawn said, “We don’t know those missions.”

The plane, which had a registration number of N806WA, according to a photo published by the The New York Post, landed at the local airport in Vienna at 4:55 p.m. Oct. 9 from Lexington, Ky. It departed at 7:51 p.m. to Springfield, Mo., where it landed at 9:32 p.m., according to FlightAware.com, a website that tracks flights.

Springfield, Mo., is home to Missouri State University. The Missouri State University Bears lost 41-33 to the Penguins on Oct. 9, YSU’s Homecoming, before departing Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport aboard a chartered flight.

Mike Hillman, owner / president of JETS, a fixed-based operator, said he and his crew worked the plane.

“I boarded the football team myself, so I’m 100 percent sure of that … and if you look at the flight history, it went to Mexico before that trip and went to Mexico after that trip. So I see why people might think migrants were involved, but as far as what was done at Youngstown, it was just the YSU opponents,” Hillman said.

Hillman said the plane was empty, except for the crew, when it landed in Vienna.

An FBO provides aviation support services, like refueling, ground handling and other services.

John Moliterno, CEO of the Western Reserve Port Authority, which oversees the airport, said airport staff and the Federal Aviation Administration have made no report that a plane carrying migrants landed here.

“We do not know of anything that came in,” he said. “I know it’s the rumor and all of that sort of stuff, but as far as we are concerned, there wasn’t anything that flew into Youngstown.”

Senior Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr., superintendent of the 910th Airlift Wing public affairs office at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, which is adjacent to the airport and shares its runway, also said no such plane landed on the air station side.

Dan Tierney, Gov. Mike DeWine’s spokesman, said various members of the administration were looking into the rumors. “We’re not aware of anything like this,” he said.

Tierney said Annette M. Chambers-Smith, the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, had spoken to officials with CoreCivic, which operates the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, a private prison in Youngstown, and they were not aware of anything related to rumors that migrants might be being housed there.

Also, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which has some oversight related to migrants being relocated, had no record of underage migrants from Mexico coming to Youngstown, Tierney said.

ODJFS has helped relocate those who’ve fled Afghanistan to Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Akron, Tierney said.

DeWine’s office also spoke to the Ohio Department of Public Safety and could not substantiate any claims.

“As for a plane of children, we haven’t been able to confirm that,” he said. “It’s a wild rumor.”

In a Wednesday email, the campaign of ex-U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, who is challenging DeWine in next year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, stated: “Recent media reports have uncovered the Biden administration’s secret plan to ship illegal immigrants all across the United States. Using a charter plane to fly illegals from the southern border in the dead of night, Joe Biden’s policy of resettling them into communities may have led the plane directly to Youngstown earlier this month.”

Renacci criticized DeWine for not letting “Ohioans know these flights were taking place in the state and why he let it happen,” even though his statement only speculates a plane with migrants may have come to Youngstown.

The report from The New York Post about relocation of migrants to New York makes no mention of Youngstown. The report from Fox News contends the same plane made stops in other cities, including Youngstown.

In the last paragraph of The Post article, Jorge Silva, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman, said: “In recent weeks, unaccompanied children passed through the Westchester (New York) airport en route to their final destination to be unified with their parents or vetted sponsor.”

There also were rumors that Youngstown officials were helping house migrants in the city.

Law Director Jeff Limbian said: “I was just told the same rumor. We have no information to support that at this time.”

He added the city has nothing to do with the supposed housing of migrants.

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said: “I have no idea about this. I have not heard anything. No one asked me to do anything. Someone is making this up as they go.”

When told who actually was in the plane, Brown shook his head and said: “They’ll blame me for that, too.”

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