It is no surprise to Homer Helter that his friend Rudi Dekkers finally penned a book.
“I would like to think I had a hand in encouraging him to write it. He would come into my store after the attacks on the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon, and he would talk to me often,” Naples resident Helter recalls of his friend, who came under tremendous scrutiny by the FBI and the National Security Agency following the fateful day of 9/11.
Dekkers involvement in the attacks was as an unknowing flight instructor and owner of Huffman Aviation, where soon-to-be terrorists learned to fly airplanes on a daily basis.
It was at Dekkers’ flight school in Venice, where Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi mastered flight basics from landings and take-offs, and even obtained visas to stay in the United States to learn at the flight school, before finally overtaking the controls of major airliners from unsuspecting pilots on Sept. 11, 2001.
Dekkers reflections in his book “Guilty by Association: The Untold Story of Rudi Dekkers,” set to be released August 15, captures seven years of recollections before and proceeding the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“I hope to set the record straight. They were in my facility for six months training, and I want people to know what happened,” Dekkers said from Los Angeles, where he is in talks about a possible movie inspired from his upcoming publication.
“After the attacks happened, people were threatening me, and the media was writing a lot of wrong information. People thought they could steer left and right, for instance, and many people were victims that day. I lost everything from it. Because of my interactions with the terrorists, they assumed I was involved,” Dekkers said.
One of his first speeches will be at Homer Helter’s Antique and Military Mall in North Naples on June 25, followed by a major book tour in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and returning back to the Marketplace in Fort Myers, tentatively set for August 29 to Sept. 1st.
“It was very emotional for me to write this,” added Dekkers about how long it took for him to recall events leading up to the attacks.
“I’m a business man, not a writer,” he admitted, saying he had encouragement from his wife and friends along the way.
However, as a successful businessman, Dekkers rose above his critics, and recently spoke in front of Rotarians in Collier County, and the Lions Club in Estero, about how the would-be hijackers slipped into the United States to train mostly unnoticed, just as any other foreign student pilots often did back then.
“People were enthusiastic about my talks, and I was well-received,” Dekkers said.
A native of Holland, Dekkers joined the Royal Military School after graduation from high school, and following his service in the military, he spearheaded a start-up wholesale company, DeBo, which sold drill bits. He married and had three daughters with his wife, Astrid.
He began an apprenticeship in a real estate firm in Holland, and eventually formed his own successful firm, Dekkers Makelaardij in Ede, Holland. He was introduced to flying by Tom Furstenberg, and earned his private pilot certificate at an airport in Tegue Holland, at Rob van de Sigtnehorst Flight School.
In 1993, Dekkers moved permanently to the United States, and continued his flight training. He passed his commercial single, multi-engine plane, and helicopter licenses, and started a airplane repair shop called Aerojet Service Center and Flight School in Naples.
Five years later, Dekkers purchased Huffman Aviation in 1998 with business partner Wally Hilliard, where many student pilots began flight training in the sunny weather of Venice, logging hundreds of flight hours each day.
When Atta and al-Shehhi arrived to his flight school, Dekkers treated his newest student pilots just like everyone else. When they made their first solo flights, celebration was common after each smooth landing, and the two were issued their pilot licenses in December 2000.
However, those men chose to use their skills in ways Dekkers could never fathom, ultimately leading to the deaths of nearly 3,000 victims. For Dekkers, his hopes are two-fold in his upcoming book.
“I want it to be a clear story, and give readers insight into my interactions with them. It has taken a long time — 10 years — because it was very emotional for me to bring it together,” he said.
If You Go:
What: Speech by Rudi Dekkers
Where: Homer Helter’s Antique and Military Mall, 5510 Shirley Street, Naples, 34109
For more information: Call (239) 594-9900