The "Flying Death Trap"
Minister Anand Kilari says he's saved countless orphans in India and stopped wars around the world. But he is at least equally proud of owning a 747, which he christened Global Peace One. He beams when he announces that the only other person in the world with a private 747 is George W. Bush.
The Air Force One, however, is undoubtedly better maintained than Global Peace One. In some aviation circles, Kilari's plane is known as the Plane That Fell From the Sky--Three Times.
According to former crew members and the airplane tracker Web site 747sp.com, the Boeing plane first flew for China Airlines in 1982. In the span of four days that year, the plane's fourth engine gave out three times, not correcting itself until after the plane dropped thousands of feet each time.
In 1997, the plane was returned to its owner, Sanwa Bank, and housed in Las Vegas. In 1998, Fleet Financial bought Sanwa and, according to documents of the sale, sold the plane to Kilari's ministry in 2001.
Kilari told us the plane was donated by "two businessmen" and that the plane has flown three overseas trips that, combined, cost less than $1 million.
Yet the sale documents show that Global Peace Initiative paid $3 million for the plane. The plane's net expenses for the first year were calculated at $5.7 million. About half of that was for fuel alone.
Fleet Financial appears to have done whatever it could to facilitate the sale, even advancing GPI $182,000 for parts and services. There is no indication GPI ever repaid the bank.
Memos from the bank and broker show frustration with Kilari's demands that the old plane "meet his standards of 'like a new aircraft--better than the president's Air Force One.'"
Documents show that Kilari assumed an all-volunteer crew would eliminate the need for salaries, and the broker was concerned that he would put that saved money into things like catering instead of safety.
In May 2002, the broker, who asked not to be named, wrote, "Bluntly put, when Dr. Paul receives an answer he does not like, he seeks out someone who will tell him what he wants to hear. This is not the way to operate an aircraft; this is a very dangerous game to play, especially since Dr. Paul has little aviation experience. I have advised Dr. Paul and GPI in writing before--many lives will be put at risk if someone doesn't start to understand what it is going to take in terms of time and money to operate this aircraft."
The broker eventually walked away from the deal but not before placing a $46,000 lien on the plane.
Safety continued to be a concern among the mostly volunteer crews who donated their time in the belief that Kilari was bringing people to Jesus.
In November 2005, the pilot, co-captain and flight engineer quit after Kilari didn't address their concerns, which included trails of debt, poor flight planning and ministry credibility.
"As pilots, we are embarrassed that we still owe Pan Am money for our initial training back in November 2002," the letter states. "These people earned that money and deserve to be paid before we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on another flight. We would like to see that [our] debts are paid off before we fly any more trips. The same thing is true with [Houston flight planning company Universal Weather]. We do not feel [it's] ethical to use another dispatch company as long as we owe Universal money."
The trio also wrote, "We also need to ferry this aircraft to a 747 maintenance base to make sure this aircraft is legal to fly and receives proper maintenance. While maintenance is being performed, a [ministry] representative should be present to monitor all work."
After they quit, subsequent crew members were worried about safety as well.
In the May 2006 issue of Airways, one of the plane's last flight attendants detailed a list of safety concerns. Ann Meili wrote that ministry mechanics did not want to wait to properly repair a jammed jump seat that blocked the exit, so they used a "49-cent spring from a hardware store," thus "flouting FAA regulations."
Meili writes, "With [the ministry] strapped for both time and cash, the C-check rumbled along a bumpy road. Parts were not ordered in advance, evacuation slides were out of date, the cabin's 'A' zone had no drop-down oxygen masks, and there was a major fuel transfer problem."
For the Houston Press, Meili put it in English: She calls the plane "a flying death trap."
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