Flight instructors kidnapped student and tried to 'ship him back' to China, police say

Jonathan McConkey and Kelsi Hoser arrested at California airport over 'bizarre and confusing' deportation attempt

Tom Embury-Dennis
Tuesday 29 May 2018 11:08
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Pilot Jonathan McConkey (left) is accused of orchestrating the kidnapping with his assistant, Kelsi Hoser (right), a ground instructor
Pilot Jonathan McConkey (left) is accused of orchestrating the kidnapping with his assistant, Kelsi Hoser (right), a ground instructor

A pair of American flight instructors have been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping a student pilot and attempting to send him back to China.

Jonathan McConkey and Kelsi Hoser turned up at Tianshu Shi's apartment in Redding, California on the evening of 24 May and told him he was going to be "shipped back" to his homeland the following morning, police corporal Rob Peterson told the Los Angeles Times.

Mr Shi had enrolled on a programme at Iasco Flight Training, where Mr McConkey was general manager and Ms Hoser a ground instructor, on a student visa, through an organisation that contracts with the school to train Chinese nationals.

The Civil Aviation Authority of China sends up to 180 students to the program, according to the school's website.

Mr Shi told the Record Searchlight newspaper he did not sleep all night and when they returned, he recorded the confrontation.

The profanity-filled audio clip was obtained by the newspaper.

"I've got your (expletive) passport. You're leaving now," a male voice can be heard saying. He later adds, "The United States government needs you out of this country right now, you understand?"

Woman sees little girl about to be kidnapped, pretends to be her mother to save her

A female voice later adds: "You are here illegal, you know that. If you don't go with us, you go to jail."

Corporal Peterson said at one point Mr McConkey shoved Mr Shi into a countertop, knocking him to the floor. Fearing for his safety, Mr Shi got in their car.

At some point, Mr Shi managed to contact his brother in Shanghai and told him what was going on.

He in turn, spoke to another flight school student who said Mr Shi had been assaulted and kidnapped. Mr Shi's brother then called Redding police.

Officers found Mr Shi, Mr McConkey and Ms Hoser at Redding Municipal Airport, about seven miles from his apartment. Ms Hoser told police they were sending Mr Shi back to China because his English was not strong enough to safely communicate with the air traffic control tower, Mr Peterson said.

They also told police they cut him from the programme in April, but Mr Shi said he was still in the program in May, Mr Peterson said, calling the incident bizarre and confusing.

Mr McConkey and Ms Hoser could face charges including conspiracy and kidnapping, police said. Both were released from custody after posting bail, according to the Shasta County Sheriff's Office.

Mr Shi told the Record Searchlight he has been in the country for about seven months on a one-year visa for students who enrol on vocational programmes.

His university paid about $70,000 (£53,000) for him to train at the Redding flight school, he said, adding that for the past two months, he said he had been "grounded," unable to fly or train.

"I can't speak English well in life, but I can speak English well with air traffic control," he said.

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