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The Iowa Standard has been able to confirm two of the three companies that sent charter buses to Signature Flight Support at the Des Moines Airport on Thursday, April 22. As with this entire story, individual stories are slightly different from different individuals, so we will do our best to simply tell you what we were told.
One of the bus companies confirmed it sent a charter bus to Signature Flight Support at the Des Moines Airport. They told The Iowa Standard that their bus was to serve as a “holding spot” while awaiting another bus sent from Chicago.
We asked who contracted the bus and were told that information could not be disclosed. This company also said it did not transport anybody — it only served as a holding spot. When asked if this happens often or was out of the ordinary, they said they receive interesting requests all the time. Requests like this don’t happen every day, but it also wasn’t the first time.
A second company confirmed it was chartered for this operation. According to this company, it was late notice and the original request was for four charter buses. Speculation is due to the Drake Relays, most of the Des Moines charter buses were spoken for. This is why they had to seek buses from Des Moines, Omaha and Chicago.
We also talked with an eyewitness to what happened at the airport. This individual had various encounters with people from the operation and said it was no doubt a government operation.
Kids were loaded onto the buses, according to this witness. Many more than 13 as originally reported from a source at the airport. Chaperones were with these kids as well. This individual also said people with a government agency were there, and while they would not swear to it, they believed it was ICE.
“I know that plane was full of people,” said the witness.
One bus headed for Kansas City and dropped children off in Kansas City as well as St. Joseph. This bus had about 10 people, though they were supposed to originally take 20-25.
However, another bus reportedly headed for Sioux Falls and another bus took people to Chicago, Cleveland and Louisville.
This is a sort of sticking point as there were three total buses at the airport and one of the bus companies denies transporting anyone.
As for the other bus, the witness said it was “way fuller” than the one that headed for Kansas City. The witness said the other buses were “relatively full” and estimated 35-45. Both buses looked “pretty full” and went on to Chicago and Cleveland — that direction.
“The plane came out of San Diego and the pilot who I talked to briefly said he was unloading here and heading right back there to get another load,” the witness said. “What it sounded to me like is they’re just taking people from the border and just dispersing them all over the country to some sort of homes that can take care of some of these kids. Right or wrong, that’s what they’re doing.”
The witness was convinced it was a government agency dealing with the children. One gentleman spoke “fairly good English.”
“It sounded to me like it was family or sponsors that they were connecting with,” the witness said. “They were nice kids. You gotta feel for these kids. They’re here, they don’t know who is what. I felt like some of them were just kind of like lost. And by that I mean they were not connected to their parents. They probably were told to go to the border and told to try to get across. I’ve heard all kinds of stories.”
The witness said it sounded like the charter flight would be busy for the “next few months” moving people around.
“I think the ones that we dealt with were going to people that they knew,” the witness said.
When the witness was asked if they were certain it was April 22, they said they didn’t recall the date but knew it was a Thursday. April 22 was indeed a Thursday.
“I know it was a real quick kind of thing all at once,” they said. “It was a charter flight that landed at the Des Moines Airport. It was interesting, I’ll say that.”
This witness said they “know” it was a government agency.
“The reason I say that is because they had government badges,” they said. “But I never, I never gave that too much attention because clearly, it was a government operation — it was screwed up from the start. Nobody would do it the way they did it unless it was the government. The money that they wasted, just in that little bit that I saw, was more money than you might imagine.”
This witness, who said they saw 35-45 kids on the two buses and 10 kids on another bus, said they never saw anyone else get back on the plane.
“Everything they had had some sort of a government logo on it and I think it was ICE, but I wouldn’t swear to that,” they said. “I know it was some sort of government kind of logo.”
ICE maintains its denial of the operation. HHS has told local reporters in Long Beach to check with ICE. ICE has been more than willing to speak with The Iowa Standard, HHS however is being very tight-lipped.
The witness is certain one bus was bound for Chicago, Sioux Falls and Kansas City. As for Cleveland and Louisville, the witness isn’t sure if that would’ve been the same bus that headed for Chicago, but that was the speculation.