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Payne Stewart Plane Crash

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Payne Stewart Plane Crash

It was a morning like any other morning. Or so it seemed.  The weather was perfect in Orlando that day; October 25, 1999.  I was in my office at SunJet Aviation, when one of my pilots, Captain Michael Kling, a retired United States Air Force Major, came in and sat down.  We had a cup of coffee and he told me of his upcoming flight to Haiti.  When he was off duty, he would fly a big ole rickety cargo plane full of medicine, clothes and food, pro bono, for a Christian mission he was involved in.  But today, Captain Kling was to pick up a regular client of ours 12 minutes away at the Orlando International Airport, and take them to Dallas in one of the Learjet 35s we operated.  The client was Leader Enterprises, an Orlando sports agency.

The CEO of Leader Enterprises was Robert Fraley, 46, who was a friend of my brother, Paul.  Fraley always asked for Paul to be his Captain but Paul was in Texas that day for flight training.  When we would fly Leader Enterprises they would invariably have famous sports figures on board such as Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, Orel Hershiser, Frank Thomas or Paul Azinger.  Since it was private jet charter, we would not have a passenger list and so did not know who it would be today.

Captain Kling was famous in our company for his meticulous preflight preparations.  His copilot for this trip was Stephanie Bellegarrigue, 27.  She was a free spirit who was very popular with our clients.  I saw them off that day and off they went—into the wild blue yonder.  They flew to OIA, picked up our clients, and headed for Dallas.



Payne Stewart Plane Crash

My phone rang maybe an hour later and it was Air Traffic Control. The man on the phone asked me if I knew one of my planes was in trouble. I did not. United States airspace is carved up into airways—invisible roads—and our Learjet was supposed to make a sharp left turn above Cross City, Florida, but instead kept going straight ahead. By the time they called me it was nearing Memphis and my crew was not responding to repeated radio calls from ATC. Shortly thereafter, another call came from the Air Force, who told me they had scrambled an F-16 up there to make visual contact with my aircraft, and reported that the windows were iced over.

I called my father, a 35 year aviator who was in California, and when I told him this news he said quietly, "They're all dead." I was taken aback by this and said, "Don't say that, Dad!" He replied, "Son, if they are flying at 40,000 feet with the windows iced over they have all frozen to death."

An employee of mine burst into my office and exclaimed, "N47BA is on television! Something's wrong." I went to the conference room and there it was: N47BA flying beautifully in a straight line on autopilot. The television announcer said one of the passengers was one of the most famous and beloved golfers in the world, Payne Stewart.

Along with the rest of America, we watched helplessly as, four hours into flight, the plane ran out of fuel and crashed at 600 miles-per-hour into a field near Aberdeen, South Dakota. I was told that the frozen bodies would shatter like glass on impact.

My employees, men and women alike, were weeping. Someone asked, "James, what are you going to do about all those people out front?" I looked and there were dozens of media people crammed right against our front doors. No one could get out. So, I went out there. I don't remember what I said. I have videos of it around here somewhere on VHS.

Six people died that day. The two pilots were like a part of our family. Besides Payne Stewart and Robert Fraley, on board were sports agent Van Arden, 45, and golf course designer Bruce Borland, 40.





Payne Stewart

Within a few days the Orlando Sentinel and the local television stations started running daily stories that our company was at fault through gross negligence. The stories all featured a disgruntled ex-employee. This person went to the media, claiming he was one of our charter pilots, with the story that he had first-hand knowledge that our pilot training and aircraft maintenance were purposefully negligent. Needless to say this was front page news.

I was inundated with interview requests. Our insurance company had hired a Washington, D.C., legal firm to represent us and they instructed me not to say a word to anyone. My feeling was "Every time I see somebody on TV accused of some crime and they say 'no comment' I think they must be guilty." I accepted the interviews from all comers. I got phone calls from people I hadn't seen in years to tell me they had watched me on the network news. I always wanted to be on TV. But not this way.

This ex-employee had worked for us alright—as a handyman and errand runner. He was my dad's next door neighbor. He had quite a few children; was broke and out of work when my dad met him. He had spent $50,000 for pilot training with the company next door, Com Air, but had been unable to find a flying job. My dad used to put sacks of groceries on his porch. Finally, my dad came to me one day and said, "Son, I've got this neighbor and we have to give him a job."

No good deed goes unpunished. Dad didn't think he would make it as a charter pilot because of his comportment. We did let him sit in the copilot's seat on some missions—not as a charter pilot but when we would fly aircraft owners in their own planes. He was never a charter pilot for us. Owners knew we would try out copilots on them before deciding if they had a future in charter. In charter, your clients are often famous and always wealthy. This requires a pilot be an individual with some class.

This fellow always had a goofy look on his face, wore pants that came halfway up his shins, would show up for duty with big stains on his pilot's shirt, say silly things to the passengers, forget their luggage at the airport. A few months before this tragic accident I told him he had no future with us as a pilot. We made a new position for him as a classroom teacher at our ground school. A few weeks before the accident, he quit to take a job as a charter pilot with a small competitor. He told them he was a charter pilot for us. That's why they hired him.

Now here he was on television saying we cut corners on aircraft maintenance. The problem is, he had not once stepped foot in our shop—which is a controlled area—and knew nothing about maintenance. His testimony was accepted at face value by the media and made him a star on the nightly news.

There was another problem with his theories. Our company did not own any airplanes. We operated aircraft that were owned by individuals and corporations on a leaseback agreement, meaning that we would use them for charter if not in use by the owner, to generate cost-offsetting revenue for the owner. In effect, this means that the more maintenance we performed in our shop the more money we made. We were paid for all work accomplished. And never once have I ever had an owner ask to defer required maintenance, "Just put off installing that control valve until I take my wife and kids skiing this weekend."

Also, I used these airplanes myself occasionally. The Learjet in the Payne Stewart plane crash was an aircraft that one week earlier I had flown in, with my children and grandmother, to a family reunion. I would have gotten on the fatal flight if I had been invited. Anybody in our company would have. We would never put anyone in harm's way.



Payne Stewart

We fully participated in the NTSB investigation, as did the manufacturer, Learjet.  At the investigatory meetings it soon became apparent that Learjet wanted to squarely fix blame on our company; and that the NTSB considered them the experts.  Learjet engineers would come up with one part after another and say, "SunJet probably didn't replace this part."  Luckily we had our own experts there: the top men from our shop.  Our guys proved the experts wrong about every theory they came up with.  It was leaked to the press that a valve had been changed the day before the accident and it caused the crash. The valve still worked after the crash!  The real cause of the Payne Stewart plane crash was never found. 

Payne Stewart Plane Crash

Sports Illustrated ran a long story about the crash, in which this appeared: James Watkins says, "I suppose there are two major theories. One is that something went wrong with the oxygen system and everybody fell asleep. I don't buy that. Six people were on that plane, different sizes, and different physiologies. The pilots were a man and a woman. Would everybody pass out at the exact same time? Wouldn't somebody take longer and react when he saw something happening? Not a button was pushed. Not a dial was turned. If you were in the cockpit, even if you were dying, wouldn't you have reached out and grabbed something, anything? I think you would, except...."

"And here's the second theory: that something violent happened, like the bulkhead splitting open. That's a rare situation. It's maybe happened five or six times in the history of aviation. They say you have 10 seconds to react when it happens, but what if you're incapacitated immediately? Mike Kling gave classes in the Air Force on how to handle oxygen deprivation. I have to think it was something violent."

"You get some strange calls after something like this," Watkins says. "I got one call, a voice saying the Chinese government had shot the plane down with a laser because Payne Stewart did an imitation of a Chinese person a few weeks earlier that was reported in the press and got him in trouble. Another voice said that one of the passengers had shot and killed everybody and then committed suicide. A worker where the passengers were picked up said one of them loaded a tub of fish on dry ice and it might have put off vapors that killed everybody. Crazy stuff."



Payne Stewart

April 11 of 2000 I noticed television trucks gathered outside our business.  We were surprisingly still open even though people I knew in the industry had warned me that no small company overcomes a high profile fatal accident such as this.  All of a sudden here comes the FBI with guns drawn and attack dogs.  They rounded up all of my employees into our long hallway and would not allow any of them to make a phone call, answer the phone, or use the bathroom.  My Director of Maintenance, a brave soul, snuck a phone call to our attorney who, a few hours later, got the FBI to leave our people alone.  But they were shaken by the experience, especially our office ladies. 

The FBI confiscated our computers; every piece of paper at our premises including personal letters and photographs from desks and toolboxes; and all of the records and logbooks for the aircraft present and out flying.  For those not familiar with aviation, this is a big problem.  An aircraft cannot legally fly without its maintenance records present at all times for FAA inspection.  All planes were de facto grounded.  An FBI spokesman addressed the mob of media and said the FBI suspected criminal activity related to the Payne Stewart plane crash.  This was now a criminal case.  And there was my mug all over the news again as the suspected killer of Payne Stewart. 

I'll tell you what is wrong with this picture.  In aviation, the FAA is entitled to enter your premises anytime they want and demand to see anything they want without appointment.  In other words, why conduct a raid to snatch documents that are open for inspection at all times?  And that had been pored over already by the NTSB?  Our attorney explained that it was a publicity stunt, ordered by someone high up in government—possibly the White House—who was determined to put us out of business.  He said the FBI had alerted the media first—a rarity. 

In our shop were the logbooks and maintenance records of 42 aircraft.  Besides the fleet we managed, we were an FAA approved maintenance Repair Station that serviced a hundred outside customers.  Needless to say, these folks were steamed that their records had been taken when they could not possibly have any involvement with the accident. 

The NTSB was shocked at the actions of the FBI.  We had spent untold amounts of time and money assisting them with their investigation, which found no wrongdoing on our part.  The Orlando Sentinel reported "Owner of SunJet equates FBI raid with Waco."  What I said was, "At least they didn't burn the place down or kill anybody.



Payne Stewart

We sold the remnant of our firm a few months later to one of our customers.  He was going to keep me on as an employee but was told by the FAA, based on nothing, "If Watkins is still there, you'll never get approved for your licenses."    So, I stepped aside.  SunJet Aviation was history. 

The FBI visited our employees at their homes, unannounced, to threaten them with prison if they didn't testify against me for something.  But there was nothing to confess or snitch about!  They spent hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer's money studying the papers and computers they had confiscated.  My attorney told me they gave up on anything related to the accident and tried to find tax evasion, bank fraud, anything—so they could make a big announcement to the public justifying what they did.  They came up empty.  Off the record, one FBI person told him, "We can find something dirty about anybody.  These guys were the cleanest people we ever investigated!

The government put a lot of heat on the FAA because of this accident and their response was to revoke the licenses of the pilots who worked for us with the carrot that they would be reinstated once they testified against me.  There was nothing to say.  I had not done anything wrong.  They were all reinstated by an NTSB judge who was furious when he saw the total lack of evidence for this action. 


Payne Stewart Plane Crash

Two years later we were vindicated. My lawyer broke the good news to me and I said, "When will the FBI make the announcement?" He said, "They won't. They never publicly admit they were wrong. It will just quietly go away. And I strongly suggest you let it go, unless you want them to hold a grudge and be under constant surveillance the rest of your life." This is the first time I have spoken about this ordeal in public. Not only because of the FBI, but also because I didn't lose my life or my loved ones in the Payne Stewart plane crash. Other people did. I am not the victim of this tragedy.

But the FBI surprised my lawyer—one of the best in the world and a former U.S. prosecutor. They did make an announcement that we were exonerated. It was not front page news. It was on page 43.



Payne Stewart

In the end, the attorneys for the widow of Payne Stewart asked me to testify on her behalf, which I did, for her lawsuit against the manufacturer, Learjet.  It seems that Learjet had top secret files hidden away in a salt mine that showed they had experienced cracks in the pressure vessel of older Lear 35 aircraft.  They had never made this public.  Unfortunately for Tracey Stewart, manufacturers are only liable 18 years for aircraft and this plane was 23 years old.   Her attorneys knew this of course, and they lost the case.  But they made a point.  And the point was not pointed at SunJet.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 29, 2019:

Kathryn Watson ~ It is good to see you visited, my friend. Thank you for taking the time to read my piece. You are right that the plane went off course just before it left Florida. It was supposed to turn left towards Texas at Cross City but instead kept going in a straight line. Therefore I would say yes, they had all passed on by then. A catastrophic failure of the bulkhead is the most likely suspect. I appreciate your lovely laudations on my writing. And you are most welcome.

Kathryn Watson on October 26, 2019:

Great article...I was looking at the crash site map and it seems that the plane veered off of it's course way before they left Florida. I think they were dead before they got out of Florida. So whatever went wrong, it went wrong in a split second and almost after takeoff, once they reached cruising height. What do you think? You always write the most amazing articles! It is amazing that you didn't become very negative over this whole action by the F.B.I. Thanks James.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 12, 2019:

T ~ Those charges were phony to begin with. Check this out: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-2001-0...

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 12, 2019:

T ~ Thank you very much for reading my article. It was indeed a gut-wrenching experience. I am glad you found my expose to be riveting. What a compliment! I appreciate your empathy and sympathy. And your closing comment made my day.

James :-)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 12, 2019:

WillStarr ~ Yes, you are so right, my friend. As I noted in my article, "My attorney told me they gave up on anything related to the accident and tried to find tax evasion, bank fraud, anything—so they could make a big announcement to the public justifying what they did. They came up empty. Off the record, one FBI person told him, "We can find something dirty about anybody."

James ;)

The Logician from now on on November 30, 2018:

James, I googled SunJet Aviation and the first hit is an article by ABC NEWS dated Jan 24, 2018 · "FAA lawyer Raymond Veatch told a federal administrative judge Tuesday that James Watkins Sr. of SunJet Aviation filed false..."

I googled "Raymond Veatch told a federal administrative judge Tuesday that James Watkins Sr." and found that this is actually an article published in other media from January 2001 but it is dated Jan 24, 2018 on ABC News. Odd?

Does ABC News mis-date older articles so they show up first on a search?

The Logician from now on on November 30, 2018:

James, this exposé of your experience is riveting! I can't tell you how deeply I feel for everyone involved and what you all were forced to endure at the mercy of a rogue FBI apparently doing the bidding of a corrupt government official or officials. And to endure this Witch Hunt, losing the business, while grieving for the deaths of beloved friends and acquaintances, that had to be gut wrenching.

From what the learjet suit revealed I would conclude that whoever was responsible for spearheading the FBI vendetta was in the pocket of learjet or pressured by a politician who was.

In this case your character (modeled after you know who) no doubt rebuked the roaring lion who was seeking to devour you.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on November 30, 2018:

I was notified of your latest comment in my email, so I read this again and immediately noticed how this injustice parallels that of the ongoing Mueller investigation and the same tactics of intimidation and threats.

You were the target back then, and the President is the target today. The idea is to name a target and then find a crime in order to satisfy an angry public. It was not justice then and it is not justice today.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 30, 2018:

Amen Randall Taylor.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 30, 2018:

Matt ~ You are spot on. The media loves bad news and scandal. Thanks for reading my piece.

Randall Taylor on September 18, 2018:

God bless Payne Stewart and family

Matt on October 25, 2016:

Wow, it's crazy when these types of things happen how the media and feds zero in on people, guilty or not. Very tragic for everyone involved.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 08, 2015:

WillStarr~ Thank you my friend, for your encouraging words. I am glad we have gotten to know each other a bit in the last few years. You are a great guy with a discerning eye for the truth. And you are a gifted writer.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 08, 2015:

bdegiulio---Thank you very much for reading my article. I appreciate your nice note as well. I hadn't heard about the Jamaica crash you brought to my attention. I will check that story out.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 08, 2015:

John W Sidoti~ I appreciate your empathy and your ongoing friendship. I too wish we had stayed in contact with each other more than we did. I do hope to see you again before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 08, 2015:

Rolly A Chabot--- You are most welcome. Thank you for taking the time to come over and read my piece. I appreciate your blessings and prayers, brother.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 08, 2015:

Wayne Brown~ I surely appreciate your kind comments. I agree with what you said, too. It had to have been some kind of catastrophic bulkhead failure---or so it seems.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on May 08, 2015:

I knew you once ran a jet charter service, but I was stunned to learn that you were the guy I saw being interviewed about the tragedy.

You just went up several notches in my personal esteem meter, Jimmy, and you were already near the top. I'm happy to learn that you were exonerated, but, as they say, where do you go to get your reputation back?

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on September 06, 2014:

Wow, what an incredible story. I certainly remember the Payne Stewart accident and was thinking about it yesterday when I heard about the small plane that crashed off of Jamaica after the pilots became unconscious. How unfair of the FBI to target you like they did. I was glad to see that the story ended with them finally admitting they made a mistake.

John W Sidoti on December 06, 2013:

Dear James, I never new about this part of your life. It seems that even when running an honest business in this world by good people bad things happen. I'm sorry you had to experience this tragedy and had to walk away from it. I was married by then and had three girls of my own. You are a fine friend James. I wish I got to know you then.

Rolly A Chabot from Alberta Canada on December 05, 2013:

So sad and such a loss, we all mourned his death and the others who were aboard... Thanks for sharing James... well written and prayers are with you as you recall that day...

Blessings from Canada

Wayne Brown from Texas on December 05, 2013:

I remember that flight very well. I always thought that it was simply a case of one of the pilots failing to set the pressurization to auto prior to takeoff. Someone certainly had an axe to grind when they cut the FBI lose. I see no reason why they would have had any jurisdication whatsoever in the case as there was absolutely no evidence pointing to a crime or a criminal act. The NTSB should have had the last work in the matter as far as the investigation. Good write, James! ~WB

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 21, 2012:

Coptic3008--- You are quite welcome. I thank you, for taking the time to read my article, and because you posted such a thoughtful response.

Yes it was and is a sad and tragic story.

I am honored by the things you said in your comments but I fear you give me too much credit. I am nothing special. Sometimes I do good things; sometimes I don't.

My father IS a pretty amazing guy. You've got that right. He is still flying jets around the world at 600 mph. And he is 77!!

(Don't tell him I told you.)

I sincerely appreciate your gracious and kind compliments. God Bless You and Merry Christmas!


Coptic3008 on December 14, 2012:

Mr. Watkins, thank you for sharing this article. I found it so sad for at least two reasons. Of course, the initial tragedy is beyond words and even with time, we know the families will always have such a large void. But I have comfort because I am sure the families honor the memories every day just by showing kindness to others, maybe even without making a direct link. The part that makes me so sad, and it's hard to find comfort, is the way everything went down afterwards. Man, if a person of your caliber, in so many respects, was so harresed, it's scary what they can do to anyone else. It makes me so sad because of all the lack of compassion. It was actually the clear opposite. It is hard to see people treat another person that way, especially without merrit, for their own agenda. Like the article said, the FBI can find anything on most anyone. We are all human, not perfect. I guess God knew he had to cut you from a finer cloth because he saw this coming. You are an inspiration, God Bless. Your Father sounds pretty amazing also!!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on September 06, 2012:

Mr Archer— You are quite welcome, kind sir. I am sincerely grateful for your empathy, condolences and blessings. I am glad you stumbled upon this Hub. I look forward to reading your writings soon.

I appreciate you sharing your association with Payne, who was by all accounts a wonderful man, husband, and father. This accident was horrific. I am certainly far from any kind of hero but I am thankful for your kind words.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article about these sad events and for your thoughful comments.


Mr Archer from Missouri on September 02, 2012:

I stumbled upon your hub today, after I saw that you had begun to follow me. I saw the title, and had to read it. You see, I live just down the interstate from where Payne grew up, and he was always a favorite of mine. I own the book his widow published a few years ago, and it is a wonderful read. I have played his course in Springfield, and felt as though he were walking with me along the links. But this.... this is a heart rending story that goes beyond mere tragedy. To think the our own government would go after you after the NTSB had cleared you in unimaginable. I offer my condolences, many years late I know. I am sorry you were forced to go through this, both as a person losing friends and then as a man losing his company. Payne was a hero of sorts to me, due to how he worked and lived. You are now a person I will think of as a hero, as well. To live through this, and maintain your sanity is amazing. May God bless you, James. Thank you for adding another chapter to this story of Payne.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 31, 2012:

Susan— You are quite welcome. I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my article. Yes, it was and is very sad. It is good to hear that the survivors are doing well.


Susan on May 30, 2012:

Even though this was now 13 yrs. ago it just does not seem like it. I suppose the haunting way it happened makes it stay so alive. So very, very sad for so many. But from what I have heard I do believe all of the family has done well at recovering, of course we as the public have never heard much more about what actually happened, and I would think someone knows. Thanks.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 02, 2012:

John Sarkis— Hello, my friend. Thank you for your kind comments and the Voted Up.

You are spot on that "His widow went through quite a hell herself." I am so sorry about that, down to my bones.


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John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on February 28, 2012:

Hi James, what a story. His widow went through quite a hell herself with attorneys and all...you did a good job detailing the whole episode.

Voted up


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James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 24, 2012:

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James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 10, 2012:

tom— If you don't eat your meat; you can't have any pudding!

tom on February 09, 2012:

who's payne? and what this got to with pudding?

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 06, 2012:

Curiad— I didn't have a password to view that article but I appreciate you sending me the link. I don't think I heard about that crash. Carl Henning, R.I.P.

Curiad on February 04, 2012:

Hi James, His name is Carl Henning and he was flying for Sean Tucker.I was mistaken in saying it was an Extra, he was flying Sean's Pitts.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 04, 2012:

Curiad— As a "C-141 mechanic and a commercially rated pilot" you would know quite a bit about what we went through. It was a tragedy of epic proportions.

May I ask your friend's name that hit the side of the mountain? I wonder if I have heard of him. I am sure that was devastating.

I just got word that a good old friend of mine died today at 50 years old. Died in his sleep though. I hope I can go out that way. As Woody Allen said, "I don't mind dying. I just don't want to be there when it happens." :D

It is good what you and your other pilot friends did in memory of this man.

Thank you for the empathy. I appreciate your warm words. I will visit with you again soon on your Hubs.

Curiad on February 02, 2012:

Wow James, Like others here, I did not know you were involved with SunJet. Being an x C-141 mechanic and a commercially rated pilot, I can relate to how the NTSB worked in this case. I can relate to your loss of good friends as well.

I had a good pilot friend, that held a job flying (transporting) a high performance aerobatic extra 300 for the owner, from airshow to airshow. As you know, these planes are not equipped for IFR. So one day, as my friend was en route to a show in the extra, he encountered serious weather and radioed to the owner who was not far away in a private aircraft with his family. The message said "I am in the clouds and cannot maintain attitude," I am going to bail." Well the plane hit a mountain before the pilot could get the canopy off and get out.

All of us that knew this man were devastated. His wife and then 2 year old daughter, his friends, the owner of the show plane, all in shock.

We gathered a crew of pilots and flew a missing man formation over his service, and installed a plaque on the wall of the flight school we were associated with.

I know what you went through was life changing and even horrible, but I also know just from reading your words, that you are a one of a kind human and that what you have done/will do from then on out will be of some import.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 28, 2011:

Brian— I do not know for sure who it was but rumor had it that it was the occupant of the White House.

Those were strange days. Sad and tragic days.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate you coming by and reading my article.

Brian on November 14, 2011:


After all of this, you must have an inkling of somebody who had it in for you in the upper levels of government. I'm not suggesting it was justified but if I were in your situation, I would certainly be curious as to who was trying to bring you down.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 13, 2011:

somethgblue— Thank you!! Thank you very much! :D

somethgblue from Shelbyville, Tennessee on October 10, 2011:

Very long article to prove a point, perhaps had you given us a hint in the beginning I would have actually read the whole thing.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on April 12, 2011:

SJKSJK— This accident made a whole lot of people feel bad. Thank you for coming by to read about it from an insider's point of view. I love your Maltese avatar (I have one.)

SJKSJK from delray beach, florida on April 10, 2011:

Very interesting. I remember when this happened and how bad I felt about it.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on March 14, 2011:

htodd— You're welcome. Thank you for reading. I am grateful for your kind compliment.

htodd from United States on March 13, 2011:

Awesome hub,Thanks for sharing

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 02, 2011:

leabeth— Yes, it was a sad and terrible tragedy. I appreciate your sympathies. Thank you for your kind words. God Bless You and Welcome to HubPages.

leabeth on February 02, 2011:

I only came upon this hub now. What a sad and terrible tragedy. I feel so sorry for you and all the innocent people that got involved in this. It was so unnecessary. God bless.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 16, 2010:

quietnessandtrust— Shalom! I surely did not want to spoil your dinner, my friend.

You are right that when they go after someone, the media has field day. Exonerations aren't big news apparently. Yes, the gossips don't want to talk about it when they are proven wrong. They are on to something else by then. Love the pillow metaphor.

I so appreciate the way you commiserated with my story. It is long past now. But the memories linger on. Still, the true victims were those poor souls on the airplane. I in no way wish to diminish their loss.

Thank you for reading my article and leaving your insights.

quietnessandtrust on November 14, 2010:

Shalom my brother:

I just found this publication and while I was enjoying my dinner, I no longer wanted to eat. I feel things pretty deeply as a general rule brother.

This all seems to be further proof that our government does not answer to us, nor do they act as servants. Which they are.

When they go after someone, they make it front page news. When they find them innocent, they say little to nothing like COWARDS!!!

This seems to be a trend in our society, I have experienced this many, many times in my life too.

Gossip runs all over the place and then when the truth comes out about it all, suddenly the gossips all fall silent and just want it to go away.

One cannot cut open a pillow and cast the feathers into the wind and then go pick them up again.

Such are they who gossip.

They ruin the lives of others and move from victim to victim, unrelentingly spewing poison and refuse to admit they are wrong.

In the scriptures, when someone was vindicated, you were restored to the place you were prior.

This is not the case today in our nation of cowards.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 12, 2010:

pinkdaisy— Thank you for reading my article. I appreciate the empathy.

pinkdaisy from Canada on October 12, 2010:

This plane crash was a tragedy. I'm sorry that you had to go through this.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 12, 2010:

Benji Ndolo— I appreciate your comments. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I believe the NTSB has a web site with more technical details about the Payne Stewart plane crash.

Benji Ndolo on October 11, 2010:

Mr Watkins, I appreciate your candor. Forthrightness, and being candid are in short supply these days. I do wish we got abit of the story of how the Air force Jets tried to blast the way ward Lear off its locked path, to direct it toward a less populated area in readiness for the inevitable crash. Where can I get that technical side of the story? Good luck to you.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 03, 2010:

SusanP— I surely appreciate your empathetic comments. Thank you very much for reading my story and leaving your gracious words. I appreciate it.

SusanP on October 02, 2010:

Your well written piece has made the Payne Stewart tragedy more than I ever imagined it to be. We hear rumors of the FBI going after people for no reason but we don't hear specific people who can verify this as truth. You've done so and I'm hopping mad that my taxes pay the FBI for frivolous investigations. I'm so sorry you had to waste even one hour of your life over any of this.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on August 05, 2010:

accident claims stockport— Yes, you are so right. It was a tough time for me—but not nearly as tough as it was for the families of those on board. Thank you for visiting my article and leaving your graceful comments.

accident claims stockport on August 04, 2010:

People are always looking to point the finger of blame when something like this happens. They dont want to hear that it may be the aircraft manufacturers that are at fault.It must have been a horrible thing to go through.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on July 18, 2010:

Gypsy Willow— It is a very sad story. Thank you for your gracious words. I do appreciate you, my dear.

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on July 17, 2010:

Sad story James Sad you had to endure it.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on July 12, 2010:

Pamela Kinnaird W— You are welcome. It was a tough time and quite an ordeal. Thank you for reading my story. I appreciate your comments. I got an email from you, which I answer soon.

Pamela Dapples from Arizona now on July 12, 2010:

I read this article carefully and with some small degree of understanding of what you went through. My brother was a former jet fighter pilot, a PR manager for Boeing and also a flight instructor. He was always very careful about safety issues.

Thank you for setting the record straight on your former business and the underhandedness of government that you and your family and others had to endure for a long period of time.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 17, 2010:

drpastorcarlotta— Yes, my dear. You are right. It was a release to publish this story. Thank you for reading my story and for leaving your gracious words. I love you, too!

Pastor Dr Carlotta Boles from BREAKOUT MINISTRIES, INC. KC on June 16, 2010:

I know when writing this Hub you were able to release a lot of pain, and help others to endure. I am sure you understand what I mean. Your a blessings James and I love you!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 07, 2010:

jvhirniak— It was eerie. Spooky. Terrifying. Sad. Thank you, brother.

jvhirniak on June 07, 2010:

James: I remember when this happened. It was very eerie because people were watching in real time and I recalled the Air Force scrambled a jet to get a closer look. Of course I was unaware of your connection to the event. Very sad.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on April 21, 2010:

Kev007— That was quite a day. The day of the crash. And the FBI raid was traumatic. I hear what you're saying. We the People shouldn't grant too much power to the central government. It nearly always leads to abuse and corruption.

People do tend to look for a scapegoat. I will keep my Bible handy alright. And I'll hold on to His hand. Thank you.

Kev007 from Everywhere on April 20, 2010:

I so vividly remember watching live (?) footage of that plane flying along. Little did I know of the underhanded tactics within our own government's capabilities; attempting to nail someone, anyone, for a crime. Little did I even imagine that the FBI would behave like a bunch of thugs!! The treatment of you and your employees by a 'trusted' branch of our own government should scare anyone who reads your article; especially now, with the highest office in the land seeming to be headed towards dictatorship. Thanks for giving us this ....keep reading your Bible and holding onto His hand.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 04, 2010:

stars439--- These are the best comments I have ever gotten.

I am working on a book, which is an autobiography on its face but is more about the history of American culture and society during my lifetime: 1955-2010.

"your as darn holsum as fresh baked bread" That is a nice thing to say but here's to hoping your bread is much more wholesome than I am. :D

"Everyone loves you probably more than nine year olds love peanut butter and jelly." You do have a way with words, my brother.

These are the best comments I have ever gotten.

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on February 03, 2010:

Dear James: What a horrific situation. Your whole family lost friends that you cherished that died in a plane crash, and a person you and your dad helped turned out to be false at the very least. And then a lucarative well thought out corporation or bussiness you created had to close it's doors because of an unfounded ridiculous investigation that should never have taken place. However there is still a shining star out in our sweet Lord's Heaven with your name on it. One day you may publish a book that everyone will enjoy that will earn you oodles of money because of the goodness in your heart and because you are a gifted brilliant writer with a golden heart.Folks just love you and adore you because your as darn holsum as fresh baked bread. In fact you are the apple of God's eye. Everyone loves you, and you have a giving heart for others. You never know what God has in store, but I have a wonderful feeling you are going to find out and truly savor,and enjoy and relish your future adventures of creativity within your gifted mind God gave you.Your work is and art. The knowledge you share is honest and pure. Everyone loves you probably more than nine year olds love peanut butter and jelly. God Bless you dear friend.The wealth you have in the heart of God is the result of your life having worthwhile human values and ethics.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 24, 2010:

Baja outlaw--- Thank you for coming by and leaving your compliments. My sister is up and down. I need to call her and see how she is today. Thanks for the reminder.

Baja outlaw on January 23, 2010:

You are a class act James!! Btw, Hope your sister is well also!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 07, 2010:

muley84— How nice to hear from you again, brother. I did know you are been in the aviation business for a long time. Thank you for coming by to visit. I sincerely appreciate your compliments. :)

Michael A Muehleisen from Miami,FL on January 07, 2010:

Wow this is heavy stuff! I have been employed by a major airline for over 30 years and I know what you state to be true. I had no idea you were some how involved. I am glad you were exonerated. Great story, great hub!

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 21, 2009:

The Rope— You are welcome. It was a stressful, heartbreaking time. Thank you for your kind comments.

The Rope from SE US on December 21, 2009:

James, I can't imagine the personal grief you had to endure over and beyond everything else you had to go through. Thanks for sharing this, it is amazing the innuendo that you had to endure.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 12, 2009:

Miss Belgravia— This was quite an ordeal. It sounds as if you, too, have traversed many travails. I suppose the future is always uncertain. I do intend to continue writing. This is a great community of which to be a part. Thank you for your best wishes and comments in general. Welcome to HubPages.

Kathleen from Fort Worth, Texas on December 12, 2009:

James -- I was stunned by the events you describe in this hub, and so admire your strength. I have read of your other difficulties, and I know that your personal strength and obvious intelligence and talents will lead you out of this time of struggle. I have experienced personal tragedies, business failure, and the feeling that the future is a black and empty place. But while I am not a religious person, it seems that unexpected and wonderful things happen to me when I let go of the fear and trust in my own abilities and strength. I hope you will continue writing through your current challenges, and let us know how you are doing. Best wishes for you and your wife.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on December 06, 2009:

susansisk— Life can end in a moment. Truer words have never been spoken, Susan. Thank you for your wise insights and warm words.

Susan Sisk from Georgia, USA on December 06, 2009:

There are moments in time that are not forgotten. This crash was one of them. Life can end in a moment. You handled this tragedy with dignity. Sunjet was fortunate to have had you there.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 25, 2009:

orthpac— Yes. Aberdeen. I am not sure where I got Minot. Odd. I have made that correction. Thank you for pointing that out.

That is amazing about Payne's Bible. I knew about that but as years go by that crucial detail had escaped my weak old memory. I am thrilled that you have added that to this Page.

I didn't go to the crash site. A couple of my top men from my maintenance facility did and reported back that it was an ugly scene.

I agree with you that it was their time to go. By all accounts Payne, and his friends, were all fine Christians. And they are sorely missed.

Your commentary is most welcomed here. It is better than my article! If I ever put this story in a book, or longer article, or a documentary, I may call on you to help me fill in missing details. Thank you very much.

orthopac on November 25, 2009:

Mr. Watkins, Thanks you for your willingness to tell your story. I'm shocked that your company was treated that way. I know things like this happen. I'm proud of you and your company that you were found to be clean, that you had nothing to hide. I'm also proud of you for telling the truth. My Grandpa always told me "you can't go wrong when you tell the truth". It doesn't seem like it's been 10 years, I'm sure it's been painful for you and everyone in your company.

I remember that day very well. I lived in Aberdeen, SD where the plane went down - not Minot, ND. My daughter worked on the local college newspaper. She was contacted by one of the national news company asking for help from local people. They wanted help putting up a tent at the crash site. I knew a guy locally with a rental business. We took the tent out to the crash site and set it up. It was about 10 miles west of town. The plane crashed into a dry slough inside a cattle pasture. The funny part was watching the news people walking around in fine dress clothes and shoes - dodging cowpies and mud. The only thing to identify a plane was a wheel and some wreckage sticking out of the ground, looked like the tail section. It looked like the plane went in nose first. They were reporting that the plane had gone as much as 20 - 30 ft. underground. I don't think the site was excavated very much.

Payne Stewart was a devout Christian man. The miracle in this tragedy was that considering the horrific, violent crash where almost everything was destroyed - everything except Payne's bible. It was found completely intact, not a page torn, the binder intact. It was given to his wife.

I think it was their time to die. Maybe God needed more angels. We will never know what happened on this side of Glory, but take solace in this - someday we'll know. What a glorious day that will be. My brother has a saying about situations like yours. "God don't like ugly" - The people who wronged you and your company will someday have to answer to Him. May you continue to "take the high road" and know that your God sees all and understands. May we all continue to live for Him - like Payne did.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 25, 2009:

knell63— The time has flown by. It doesn't seem like ten years to me either. It was extremely sad. Thanks for letting me know you were here. I appreciate it.

knell63 from Umbria, Italy on November 25, 2009:

God, 10 years ago, doesn't seem that long. That was such a sad day in so many ways. I remember hearing the news live in the UK. You felt so helpless and to top it all they put your company through rings because someone higher up the chain wouldn't take the blame. It makes you wonder some days.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 25, 2009:

create a page— Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I appreciate the additional encouragement. God has blessed me in manifold ways, though deserving none. As terrible as this tragedy is, it was certainly a huge learning experience for many.

create a page from Maryland, USA on November 25, 2009:

I am truly honored by your reply James. You have given me the best reply to any comment I have made on hubpages. However, I would like to reiterate that I really believe that you do have courage. It took courage to defend yourself in the way you did, and the way you continue to do. I think you are just too humble to accept that you have that gift in addition to so many others. Have a blessed day, and I hope you and your family will have a happy thanksgiving.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 24, 2009:

create a page— I am humbled by your graciousness. You have made the best commentary here I have ever received since I joined Hub Pages. My, you have eyes that see. Thank you for this gift you have given me tonight. I will read this many times in the coming days.

Only one thing: I am not courageous. I pray for courage because I don't have much of it. :)

create a page from Maryland, USA on November 24, 2009:

James, words can never ever really express how sad I am to learn about your tragic experience. I did not even have a clue that you had an aviation business that was nationally recognized. I did not know either, that a plane could continue to fly in autopilot after all the occupants had passed.

As I read your hub, I was reminded that we are all risk takers. I was falsely accused by a client two years ago. I lost my business license, and then my clientele as a result. It was a difficult period in my life to say the least. I got my license back eventually, and I am trying to recover from all the losses.

My experience was on a much smaller scale than yours, but I know that such situations will either make us or break us. James I feel your pain, and I understand. Sometimes it feels like we will never ever truly recover. The scars are there to remind us. I am so sorry for the losses and all the pain you, your family, the other families and your employees experienced.

I can tell that you are a man of strength, courage, integrity and character. I know that writing this hub may help you to release some emotions you may have had for years. I believe though, that it may be far more therapeutic for readers who may have had similar experiences as you have had. People struggle daily with false accusations, losing their businesses, lengthy court cases, propaganda and other unfortunate situations. The maturity in which you have handled your case, and your openness about it is a ministry in itself to such people.

Thank you so much for sharing from the depths of your heart in all sincerity. I know you have blessed me, and I am sure that many others will learn to trust in God as they read this hub.

God bless you, my friend. I respect you even more. I know God has used you and will continue to use you as his precious instrument.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 24, 2009:

manlypoetryman— He was a precious man. A good man. This accident created many holes in many hearts. You are welcome. Thank you for your kind comments.

ManlyPoetryMan from (Texas) Boldly Writing Poems Where No Man Has Gone Before... on November 24, 2009:

I followed this story as best I could...at the time. I remember watching Payne's big win a few month's before that accident, that famous victory stance, and his declaring of his faith when he won. "First of all, I have to give thanks to the Lord. If it weren’t for the faith that I have in him, I wouldn’t have been able to have the faith that I had in myself on the golf course." Payne Stewart, said this after he won the 1999 U.S. Open. What a sad loss to yourself and for all involved...and the friends and family of each and everyone...on that plane that day. How is it that everything makes page 1 in the news at first when everyone can say anything...then when the actual findings are revealed...they end up on page 43? It looks like you were able to stay strong through it all...and keep your bearings. I know I learned quite alot through your account of all this James....Thank you for telling the truth that was going on "behind the scenes".

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 24, 2009:

Jack Ogiony— Excellent! Would you care to share tour theories with us? I'd love to hear them.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 24, 2009:

Gold prices today— Great! I am grateful that you want to read my work. No need to be surly, though. Be happy.

Jack Ogiony on November 24, 2009:

I have my theory's. I've been a professional pilot for 43 years which includes of over 10000 hours of jets of which includes 3000 hours of Lear Jet 35 time. I don't believe anyone or any government body of investigation has accurately touched on the cause of the crash. Typical result of their work, inconclusiveness.

Gold prices today on November 24, 2009:

I would love to follow your hub and i would surly be back.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 24, 2009:

Gold prices today— Thank you very much for the affirmation. I appreciate you coming by and leaving your remarks.

Gold prices today on November 24, 2009:

This is very emotional story, hats off to you that you dare to face the truth and have shared this with all. God always support people who are truthful and honest, just like you.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on November 23, 2009:

red— There was some bitterness and more so, a profound sense of sadness. But you work through it and live to fight another day. At least I . . . had that option. I am at peace now, yes.

Thank you very much for your comments.

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