WASHINGTON -- Long before the terrorism of Sept. 11, an Arizona flight school warned federal aviation officials that Hani Hanjour lacked the flying skills and command of English required for the commercial pilot's license he already held, officials say.
Reacting to the alert in January 2001, a Federal Aviation Administration inspector checked to ensure Hanjour's 1999 license was legitimate and even sat next him in one of the Arizona classes.
But he didn't tell the FBI or take action to rescind Hanjour's license, FAA officials told The Associated Press.
Hanjour is believed to have piloted the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
The Arizona flight school manager who alerted the government told authorities the FAA inspector called her when Hanjour's name became public after the hijackings and declared "your worst nightmare has just been realized," officials said.
The manager for the now-defunct JetTech flight school in Phoenix said she called the FAA inspector who oversaw her school three times in January and February 2001 to express her concerns about Hanjour.
"I couldn't believe he had a commercial license of any kind with the skills that he had," said Peggy Chevrette, the JetTech manager. She also has been interviewed by the FBI.
Checked pilot's license
Marilyn Ladner, a vice president for the Pan Am International Flight Academy that owned JetTech before it closed in the aftermath of Sept. 11, said the flight school expressed its concerns and believes the FAA official observed Hanjour's weaknesses firsthand.
"We did have skill level concerns and a bit of language fluency concern, and we did mention it to our FAA training center official," Ladner said.
The FAA official "did observe Hani's limited knowledge of flying" and "did check his flight credentials. He did tell us they were valid, so he did follow up on our concern," she said. Hanjour did not finish his studies at JetTech and left the school.
FAA officials confirm their inspector, John Anthony, was contacted by Pan Am in January and February about Hanjour and, at the request of the school, checked Hanjour's commercial pilot's license to ensure it was valid.
But they said he observed nothing that warranted further action or suggested Hanjour would eventually hijack a plane. The inspector considered Hanjour just one of many students that schools routinely seek FAA reviews on, officials said.
"There was nothing about the pilot's actions to signal criminal intent at the time or that would have caused us to alert law enforcement," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.
The Arizona school's alert is the latest revelation about the extent of information the government possessed before Sept. 11 about the hijackers or concerns about a terrorist strike. Last week, AP reported the FBI in Arizona raised concerns in July 2001 that a large number of Arab students were training at a U.S. flight school and urged FBI headquarters to check all schools nationwide for such students -- advice that wasn't followed until after Sept. 11.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday he was unaware of the account about Hanjour. "I'd be pleased to include information like this in our investigation but it is not something with which I am familiar," Ashcroft told reporters.