The pilot of a Cessna airplane that crashed after nearly hitting boats in Horsetooth Reservoir last September is now thought to have left the United States and a warrant for his arrest has been issued.
Ahmad El-Kaddah is accused of intentionally trying to strike people in boats on Horsetooth Reservoir on Sept. 11, 2022 before the plane he was flying crashed in the foothills.
Residents have expressed concern with the fact that El-Kaddah is only being charged with a misdemeanor, but local law enforcement says their hands are tied due to state law.
Witnesses told CBS News Colorado that they thought the plane was about to strike several boats that evening. Pictures from different angles surfaced of the plane swooping and turning only a matter of feet away from the people below in the boats.
“I saw a plane coming in so I started shooting pictures of it,” said Stephanie Stamos, a photographer in Fort Collins.
Stamos was with a client shooting senior portraits when the plane dropped low near the water. She took a series of photos.
One witness on the water told CBS News Colorado that she heard a boat driving by playing the theme song of Top Gun as the plane dipped low. She was not sure if that was purely coincidence, if it was planned or if the music was turned on after others saw the plane as well.
The next day Stamos saw a CBS News Colorado report that featured then-Sheriff Justin Smith asking for the public’s help finding images of the plane before the crash. She provided those images to CBS News Colorado and NTSB/FAA investigators. Her photos, and others from nearby witnesses, helped investigators better understand what happened prior to the crash.
“When I went to see what I got I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he was almost on top of the boat,'” Stamos said.
Investigators interviewed El-Kaddah and his brother, the passenger, after the crash. Both were able to walk away from the crash without major injury. El-Kaddah told investigators that he was experiencing mechanical issues with the plane before the crash. However, a report obtained by CBS News Colorado from the NTSB showed investigators could not find any mechanical issues with the aircraft. The investigators ruled the crash was due to pilot error.
“The photos were integral to the investigation,” said Sheriff John Feyen, who replaced Smith in January as the county’s top cop. “One misstep, one downdraft, one gust of wind off the water and we get totally different results. This is a huge concern for us that this behavior put so many people in fear for their own safety and jeopardized their life.”
El-Kaddah was charged with five counts of menacing and six counts of reckless endangerment, all misdemeanors. However, investigators say they believe El-Kaddah has left the country.
Many in the community expressed concern with the idea that El-Kaddah was only facing misdemeanor charges for allegedly nearly striking people with a moving aircraft.
Feyen pointed out that Colorado lawmakers revised the state’s misdemeanor laws in 2021 under Senate Bill 271. The revision removed law enforcement’s ability to charge someone with use of a deadly weapon when a vehicle was the source involved. Therefore, in Colorado, someone who allegedly uses a moving aircraft to try and hit someone on the ground is only able to be charged with a misdemeanor, something the district attorney in the region has no control over either.
Others also reached out to Feyen’s office asking if El-Kaddah was potentially linked to terrorism given the date of the crash and his alleged ties to foreign countries.
Feyen assured the public that his office worked with the FBI to thoroughly investigate El-Kaddah and his background and neither agency could find any evidence that suggested El-Kaddah was linked to any terrorism network. Feyen dismissed the concerns some in the public shared on that saying the investigation found any suggestion association to terrorism is unfounded and misguided.
However, Feyen said the agency would still like to speak with El-Kaddah and make sure he sees his day in court as he is considered innocent until proven guilty.
“If he comes back we would like to know so we can hold him accountable for his actions,” Feyen said.