A California flight instructor and his assistant were arrested last week for allegedly kidnapping one of their students with the intention of surreptitiously deporting him back to his native China. According to an audio recording of the alleged abduction, the 21-year-old student was told that if he “cannot speak English, you are not going to be able to stay here.”
Police in Redding, California, said they intercepted Jonathan McConkey, reportedly the general manager of the IASCO Flight Training school in Redding, and his assistant Kelsi Hoser at the Redding Municipal Airport on Friday before the duo was able to get the student on a plane “to be sent back to China.”
According to the Record Searchlight newspaper, the student, identified as Tianshu Shi, has been training at the flight school for several months on a valid vocational visa.
Police said Shi’s kidnapping ordeal began late on Thursday night when McConkey and Hoser arrived at the student’s home and told him to pack his belongings and be ready to leave for the airport early the next morning.
Shi, however, said the pair didn’t explain why he needed to leave. He added he refused to budge when they returned the next day.
Shi told the Searchlight that he recorded the confrontation that ensued — parts of which the paper transcribed.
“If you cannot speak English, you are not going to be able to stay here,” a woman, who spoke in both English and Mandarin, said in the clip.
“Your ass is getting on the plane right now or I’ll break your fucking arm,” a male voice said. “You better believe I’m fucking threatening you. And the United States government needs you out of this country right now, you understand?”
IASCO reportedly trains students from China to fly for Chinese airlines.
Redding Police Cpl. Rob Peterson told the Los Angeles Times that Hoser claimed she and McConkey had decided to send Shi back to China because his English “wasn’t strong enough to safely communicate” while flying.
She said also that Shi had been kicked out of the program in April.
Shi has disputed these suggestions, however, telling Searchlight that though “I can’t speak English well in life, but I can speak English well with air traffic control.” He claims also that he was still in the program in May, though he said the school barred him from flying or training about two months ago.
Redding police said Shi suffered minor injuries in the altercation with McConkey and Hoser. Shi ultimately agreed to leave his apartment with the pair out of “fear for his safety” but before he left the house, he managed to place a call to his brother in Shanghai to ask him for help.
Police said it was Shi’s brother who called law enforcement to report the alleged kidnapping. Following that call, officers found McConkey, Hoser and Shi at the local airport. McConkey and Hoser had reportedly intended to fly Shi to the Bay Area before putting him on another plane to China.
Police arrested McConkey and Hoser and booked them on suspicion of conspiracy and kidnapping. According to the Times, the pair posted bail and have been released from custody.
According to the Searchlight, Shi wasn’t the only Chinese student that McConkey and Hoser had threatened with deportation. Another student in the same program as Shi told the paper that the duo had also visited his home on Thursday with a similar command to pack his bags.