MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The pilot in charge of the plane that crashed with Sen. Paul Wellstone aboard exaggerated his flying experience by telling his managers he had hundreds of hours of experience with a major commuter airline, a report said.
Richard Conry told Alan Hoffert, chief pilot at Executive Aviation, that he had 400 to 500 hours of prime experience at the commuter airline, American Eagle, the Star Tribune reported Sunday.
But an unnamed aviation official told the newspaper Conry only trained at American Eagle. He never was named a first officer or co-pilot at the airline and never flew a passenger flight at the airline, the official said.
While Conry was a licensed pilot and had flown private planes over the years, at American Eagle "he never carried passengers," the official said. "He never flew a scheduled flight."
The official said he was certain of the information because Conry "never had a classification other than trainee, and trainees don't fly passenger flights."
According to an employment record, Conry resigned in April 1990 after only four months in the training program at American Eagle. The stated reason for his leaving was "better job opportunity." In fact, Conry was sentenced to federal prison on fraud charges a week after he resigned from American Eagle.
Conry, 55, was flying a plane for Executive Aviation when it crashed Oct. 25 near Eveleth. Conry died, along with Wellstone, the senator's wife and daughter and four other people.
Mary Milla, a spokeswoman for Executive Aviation, told The Associated Press on Sunday that company officials would not have hired Conry if they had known he had a felony conviction and less flying experience than he claimed. But she said he was a solid pilot.
"They make hiring decisions on things that they can verify, like certifications and ratings from the (Federal Aviation Administration)," she said. "He had all of those qualifications."
After Conry was hired, he went through a training program at Executive Aviation that included 80 hours of training on the ground and five 90-minute flights with a chief pilot, Milla said.
A phone message left with American Eagle on Sunday was not immediately returned.
Conry never disclosed his criminal history to Executive Aviation. Hoffert said Conry claimed to have 400 to 500 flight hours at American Eagle in twin-turboprop ATR airplanes that carry up to 66 passengers.
Conry was hired by Eden Prairie-based Executive Aviation in April 2001 as a pilot-in-command. He was one of Wellstone's trusted pilots at the firm. Hoffert said Conry's claim of up to 500 hours of co-piloting experience at American Eagle certainly would earn him positive consideration in a job interview.
Conry's widow, Johanne Conry of Minnetonka, did not respond to a question about her late husband's record at American Eagle.
While the employment record doesn't indicate how Conry spent his time as a trainee, the aviation official said he would have spent a significant amount of time in the classroom and practicing on simulators before taking any training flights with an instructor.
Even under a different scenario, however, it still would have been improbable for Conry to have spent 400 to 500 hours flying for American Eagle. Tom Wychor, an executive vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association International, said 85 hours a month of flying time is considered a "high average" for a full-time turboprop pilot at a standard regional airline. Four months at 85 hours would net a pilot 320 hours.
As previously reported, Executive Aviation's application form at the time Conry was hired in 2001 asked whether he had been convicted of a felony in the past five years. Conry, who was convicted in 1990 on 14 counts of mail fraud in connection with a home construction business, answered "no."
Conry had experience flying private planes, and he owned planes over the years.
FAA records show that in 1989, Conry obtained an air transport pilot rating, the highest rating a commercial pilot can get and one that requires at least 1,500 hours of flying time. That rating requires a minimum of 250 hours as captain or co-pilot, among other requirements.
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