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Huffman still struggling { September 11 2003 }

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Flight school owner still struggling
reported by Amy Oshier

Last updated: September 11, 2003 06:06 PM
CHARLOTTE COUNTY, September 11, 2003 - Southwest Florida played an unwitting role in the terror attacks. In July of 2000, two of the hijackers enrolled in a Venice flight school. The man who owned Huffman Aviation says the events of September 11th changed his fortunes too.

“I picture him in the break room of Huffman Aviation,” said Rudi Dekkers, former owner of Huffman Aviation.

Mohammed Atta's face is an image Dekkers can't shake. He will forever be attached to the September 11th hijacker as the Venice flight school owner who gave the terrorist training.

“Unfortunately I'm sorry that they walked in. But if they didn't walk into my store they would've just gone somewhere else,” said Dekkers.

Dekkers remembers Marwan al-Shehi as an average student but Atta stood out.

“I didn't like him, but you don't need to like all your customers,” said Dekkers.

He eventually learned the men were on secret watch lists and there were suspicions of an attack on America.

“It was known that they were looking into using planes as weapons,” said Dekkers.

Two years ago, everyday people didn't think about terrorism. Now it touches every corner of the country. It may be the most lasting affect of September 11th.

Now an anti-terrorism drill hardly raises an eyebrow. On the anniversary, the Regional Security Task Force practiced putting up a mobile communications center.

“This product here was something that was in plans prior to 9-11 but as a result of it obviously it was accelerated,” said Paul Winters.

It’s proof life can change in seconds.

“I had, in my peak, 34 aircraft, all small aircraft. I have now 2 aircraft,” said Dekkers.

Dekkers lost Huffman Aviation. He now runs a fractional ownership jet company.

“It will take me another year and then this company will be at least as big as I had before,” said Dekkers.

The terror attacks stalled his American dream, but couldn't bring it down.

The INS also faced fallout from the September 11th attacks after sending Huffman Aviation approved immigration visas for the two terrorists 6 months after they died in the attacks.

© 2003 by NBC2 News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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