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UPDATE: ICE continues to say they did not participate in this operation. Signature Flight Support referred us to World Atlantic Airlines for further information. We obtained a record from the Des Moines Airport yesterday showing that it was a government/ICE chartered flight. However, Signature may have “assumed” it to be an ICE flight when given the details of the flight.
The Iowa Standard received a large chunk of the puzzle it has been working on yesterday. We obtained records that show Flight WL317 was chartered from Long Beach, California to Des Moines on April 22 by ICE. The plane sat at the Des Moines Airport for about 90 minutes before leaving for Atlanta.
Here is what we can confirm through the surveillance video we obtained. But first, make sure to check out the video Long Beach Local News had of unaccompanied migrant minors boarding the flight.
This same aircraft landed in Des Moines. While records show no passengers deplaned in Des Moines, the video obtained by The Iowa Standard shows not one, not two, but three charter buses meeting the aircraft at the Des Moines Airport.
We considered clipping the video but instead wanted to provide unedited footage with notes.
20-second mark: Plane is in sight
2:00: Plane comes to stop
3:30: MCD opens
4:00: slide/steps (five Signature employees)
7:00: Fueling and pilot in command does walk around
19:00: Bus #1 arrives at aircraft
24:00: Interior lights on Bus #1 come on
25:35: Bus #2 arrives at aircraft
37:17: Fueler leaves
42:40: Lavatory/water truck arrives
54:30: Individual approaches the fence area to observe what is happening
59:30: Bus #3 parks at aircraft
1:01:40: Individuals board Bus #3
Aircraft leaves for Flight WL318 to Atlanta from Des Moines with 30 passengers on board.
We wish the airport had better surveillance footage available from an angle that shows the back of the plane. Remember, the individuals in Long Beach boarded like this:
That part of the plane is not in view in the surveillance footage. Long Beach Local News reported originally that almost 100 unaccompanied migrant children boarded that plane in California. We’re not sure if that includes the ICE agents, interpreters and social workers.
The records we obtained of Flight WL317 doesn’t really say zero passengers deplaned as the Des Moines Airport told us. That section of the report is simply kept blank.
The flight was secured through Signature Flight Support. And the customer was:
We know two other things — the charter needed vehicle gate access and there would be 5-7 armed federal agents on the flight.
ICE was one of my original contacts when I first started working on this story. Originally I was told ICE doesn’t have the legal authority to detain unaccompanied kids. On May 3, ICE confirmed it had no involvement with the matter and suggested contacting the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.
An air operations area worker at the airport in Long Beach confirmed ICE agents transported the children by charter bus to a plane on the tarmac in Long Beach according to Long Beach Local News. Kate Kuykendall, public affairs officer at the Long Beach Airport, said no official from the airport confirmed anything about the flight.
After relaying that information to my contact at ICE (St. Paul Field Office), I was referred to ICE headquarters in Washington D.C.
That was on May 3. I have tried calling and emailing the contacts included in that email and have not heard back.
Remember, We Are Iowa originally reported that the Des Moines Airport said no planes from Long Beach landed in Des Moines on April 22. The Des Moines Airport told The Iowa Standard after We Are Iowa’s initial inquiry it circled back and said a flight had indeed landed in Des Moines from Long Beach but no passengers deplaned.
The glaring question for most people is why did a charter plane go from Long Beach, to Des Moines, to Atlanta and have three charter buses meet it on the tarmac in Des Moines but not have one single passenger deplane?
The most pressing question, though, is where did those buses go and who was on them.
Here are articles we’ve published as this story has unfolded: