*some of this story contains paragraphs as reported in 1987
St. Lucia Airways Limited was a privately-owned company founded in 1975. Its head office was listed as PO Box 253, Castries, St. Lucia, West Indies. The airlines board chairman was Michael Gordon. In 1984, the company filed records with the U.S. government that listed Allison Lindo, of St. Lucia, as owning 99 percent of the stock. Lindo still owns those shares.
General and tourist flights were operated mainly to Martinique and Barbados, but also extended throughout the Caribbean and South America.
There was also a shuttle service between the two St. Lucia airports of Vigie (SLU/TLPC) and Hewannora (UVF-TLPL).
In 1982 the firm operated two aircraft. A Britten-Norman BN-2A Islander, manufacturers serial number 612, registration J6-LAS, formerly registered VQ-LAS and a Boeing 707-351C, manufacturers serial number 18689, registration J6-SLF, formerly registered G-WIND. was acquired in 1982 for cargo charter work.
1987 TINY ST. LUCIA AIRLINE USED IN IRAN MISSIONS
Some employees at St. Lucia Airways, a tiny Caribbean-based airline, called them “special flights” because they took priority, disrupted scheduled cargo runs and were handled by select crews who kept the details to themselves.
Some employees heard only rumors about the flights. One crew had gone to Iran. Another had just returned from Israel. But it wasn’t until the U.S. sales of arms to Iran became public that they began to piece it together: the airline had a role in the secret shipments. But many did not realize the full extent of the airlines participation in secret U.S. operations.
Since 1985, St. Lucia Airways had been flying classified missions to strategically important regions of the world, according to present and former employees, U.S. military officials and a review of flight records in St. Lucia, Turkey and Belgium.
Those records show: On Nov. 25, 1985, a St. Lucia 707 flew to Tehran. That plane carried Hawk missiles in what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid to free U.S. hostages held in Lebanon, according to a congressional source. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the Iran-contra affair does not refer to the airline by name; the report calls it a “CIA proprietary.”
On May 23, 1986, the same St. Lucia plane flew from Belgium to Tel Aviv via a U.S. Air Force base in Germany. That coincides with a shipment of TOW missiles, sent by the CIA, to Tel Aviv, and the now-famous mission of former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane and his group to Tehran via Tel Aviv.
During the first four months of 1986, the airline made at least four flights from Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tex. Dietrich Reinhardt, who runs the company, first denied that the airline had any military contracts. Asked later about specific flights, he said he could not discuss them because they were classified. He said only that the cargo was “relief goods” for Zaire.
During that same period, a plane with St. Lucia’s insignia was sighted making arms deliveries to a remote airfield in Zaire, en-route to rebels inside Angola trying to topple that country’s Marxist regime, according to a New York Times.
Reinhardt and other company officials denied any link between the company and the Central Intelligence Agency or any other U.S. government branch. Never has the company’s cargo manifest indicated that the airline was hauling arms or ammunition, company officials say.
“It’s not our job to open every crate and see what the cargo is. We rely on the papers [the manifest],” Reinhardt said in one of several interviews. “I didn’t sign any contracts directly with the U.S. government, but we flew for some brokers worldwide and who knows where they got their cargo?
“If they pay and everything is legitimate, I’m not going to say ‘Hey, are these four boxes from the CIA?’ I’m not saying that, because I’d be out of business very quickly, if they [the CIA] stand up some day and say, ‘We flew with St. Lucia Airways,’ then maybe they tricked us, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. Anyway, nobody is sure about anything these days,” he said.
But on the Caribbean island for which the airline is named, Prime Minister John Compton said he was troubled by the attention the airline is bringing to the palm-covered state he governed.
He directed the customs officers to determine whether the airline carried arms while transiting through St. Lucia. He also summoned Reinhardt and the airline’s board chairman, Michael Gordon, for a meeting. After the meeting, Compton said in an interview that he believes the St. Lucian residents listed as owners of the airline are “only a front” and that the island of St. Lucia is merely “a flag of convenience.” “What we’re doing now is asking them to change their name,” Compton said. “Call it something else. Call it Atlantic Airways or anything else. We don’t want to be involved with them, the name is causing us embarrassment.” “We are a small country,” Compton said. “We don’t want to have these kinds of international entanglements. We want to keep out of it. We’re too small. We want to keep our luck up, come lie on the beach, the weather is beautiful now.”
Rumors and Suspicions.
For most employees at St. Lucia Airways, the company was a small but aggressive carrier. In addition to commuter service in the Caribbean, the airline hauled cargo from Miami and two European bases, Ostend and Brussels in Belgium. It has administrative headquarters in Frankfurt, West Germany, where a receptionist answers the telephone by saying “TBG,” an abbreviation for the German words “airline consultants.” It owned or leased at least three cargo planes, a Hercules L100 and two 707s.
Much of the airline’s business appeared unrelated to any U.S. government undertaking. The airline regularly flew chickens from Belgium to Africa and it once shipped five tons of bottle caps to a brewery in Zaire, according to Reinhardt. Some present and former employees, most of them Europeans and all of whom asked that their names not be used, described the “special flights” that were handled with great discretion. “The rest of the operations [those not designated “special flights”] were just something to do to pass the time,” said one former employee. “The airplane always had to be ready at a moment’s notice. That was company policy. That was from Reinhardt.”
Two former employees said it was understood that only the 707 registered in St. Lucia — not the one registered in the United States — would be used on such missions and that generally Europeans worked as crew on the flights. One former employee said he complained repeatedly that flight logs were not made available to him, something he considered necessary to determine when to perform scheduled maintenance on the aircraft. “They never even printed it in their log book,” this employee said. “Every company in the world has a log book for maintenance — right there in black and white. This company did not have it at least it was not on display. If they had one I certainly never saw it.” Another former employee said: “If there was a special flight, Mr. Reinhardt came over himself. Just the operating crew was briefed. These kinds of things they tried to keep secret.”
Reinhardt challenged the comments of the former employees, saying they were probably part of a group of disgruntled workers, some of whom had been dismissed.
Reinhardt, is a West German who lives in Port Charlotte, Fla. A licensed pilot, he is — by his own account — a man with a taste for adventure and living well. He has eight cars including a Maserati, a Porsche convertible and a Mercedes, as well as a motorcycle, a sailboat and a corporate jet at his disposal.
“What I do I do because I have fun doing my job,” Reinhardt said. “I don’t do anything against this country [the United States] or against the Free World.”
While denying ties to the CIA, he said he is disturbed to see the press and public second-guessing the U.S. government and prying into state secrets.
“When you elect a government,” he said, “they handle it as well as they can. They know much more than you or I. Who am I to decide what is right or wrong? America must lose its political virginity. It’s high time they do it. What are we doing here but acting like children?”
A Question of Ownership
In 1984, the company filed records with the U.S. government that listed Allison Lindo, of St. Lucia, as owning 99 percent of the stock. Reinhardt said Lindo still owns those shares.
“Of course, she owns it,” Reinhardt said. “She lives in Castries right on top of a hill overlooking the airport. You can look up and see her nearly every day there on the hill looking down on the airport watching her company.”
Lindo declined to comment. Jennifer Nelson, one of Lindo’s close friends and her business partner in a fruit and vegetable business on the island, said Lindo told her she sold most of her interest in the company to a German concern two or three years ago.
Prime Minister Compton said of Lindo: “That young woman owning these jets and all — no, she’s not the owner. They are only fronting for these people. The whole thing is convenience.”
Missiles for Iran
The company’s officials acknowledge that it twice flew to Tehran in 1985. In a prepared statement, it said: “On both occasions the cargo manifest said, ‘general cargo.’ The authorities in the country of origin, the destination country, and all other countries through whose air space the flight had to be made, authorized the flight.”
Reinhardt said the first flight took place in August or September. No flight records could be located for that flight. The second flight, he said, took place in November or December. Turkish records show that a St. Lucia plane, tail number J6SLF, flew over Turkey on Nov. 25, on its way from Cyprus to Tehran. On that day, the Senate intelligence committee report says, the CIA arranged for an unidentified airline to carry 18 Hawk missiles from Israel to Iran.
For the second trip, Reinhardt said, he was contacted by a broker whose name he does not remember. “I thought we were flying aircraft spare parts,” he said. According to testimony received by the Senate committee, the CIA believed it was arranging for a shipment of “oil drilling spare parts.”
A former employee of the company said he recalls overhearing a crew member after the flight returned, and that there was talk of having had to fly “some special corridor” into Iran. Later he remembers thinking it odd that a plane should have gone from Israel to Iran.
Apparently believing that the airline was owned by the government of St. Lucia, Turkish aviation authorities billed the St. Lucia government for $460 — the fee for the Nov. 25 overflights.
Prime Minister Compton said Reinhardt told him that St. Lucia Airways had originally been retained to fly six times to Iran, but that the last four flights were canceled after unspecified problems arose.
A ‘Special Flight’ to Israel
On May 23, 1986, at 6:05 p.m., the St. Lucia Airways 707 with tail number J6SLF — the same plane flown to Tehran in 1985 — lifted off the runway at Ostend Airport on the coast of Belgium. According to Belgian flight records, St. Lucia Airways Flight SX 500 was on its way to Ramstein Air Base, a U.S. Air Force facility in West Germany.
Those records show that the plane returned to Ostend at 7:50 a.m. the next morning and that in the intervening 14 hours, the plane had been to Tel Aviv and back.
The flight’s purpose is not clear. What is known is that on that same day, May 23, the CIA shipped 508 TOW missiles to Israel, and that the McFarlane delegation, including Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and others, was en route from the United States to Iran via Europe and Israel, according to the Senate report.
According to Belgian flight records, there was a second St. Lucia Airways flight to Israel on Nov. 7, 1986. Again, it is not known what cargo the 707 carried. According to the Senate committee report, just one day earlier — Nov. 6, 1986 — Israel received 500 TOW missiles as “reimbursement” for those Israel had shipped to Iran on Oct. 29.
These shipments marked the end of the U.S.-Iranian arms deal.
Flights from Kelly AFB
Flight records kept by the St. Lucia government show that the airline stopped four times in St. Lucia on the way to or from Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio — on Jan. 29, March 21, April 5 and April 18, 1986. The other end of the flight was Cape Verde off the coast of Africa, a site for refueling on the way to Zaire.
Informed of the flight logs, Reinhardt said, “It was classified by the Air Force and the agreement is that we don’t talk about it. I think if the government of the U.S. chooses to classify a flight it should be respected by everyone.”
Company officials said it was a “relief mission” to Zaire, and that the contents of the plane were not food or blankets, but heavy equipment.
Zaire’s neighbor to the west is Angola, a country torn by civil war. The U.S. government has repeatedly expressed support for rebels seeking to overthrow Angola’s Marxist government and has begun to send supplies to the rebel group known as the Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA. The New York Times reported last month that planes with St. Lucia’s insignia were seen at a remote air strip in southern Zaire and that they were seen unloading arms believed to be going to UNITA.
The Defense Department is urging the Reagan administration to negotiate a formal agreement with Zaire so that the United States can begin to turn a rundown air base in Zaire — the one St. Lucia’s plane was reportedly seen flying to — into a major U.S. facility for central and southern Africa.
In a prepared statement, the company said, “No St. Lucian aircraft has ever landed in Angola,” and that “St. Lucia has never been knowingly involved in the shipment of arms either to or for Angola.”
St. Lucia Airways’ board chairman, Gordon, is also the owner of one of the island’s newspapers, The Voice of St. Lucia. The New York Times report about the Zaire activities caused a stir, he said.
“St. Lucia is a tiny island state,” he said. “If a wooden shack in town burns down, that makes the front page. Can you imagine what this has done?”
He added, “The whole issue is whether some agency of your government has been doing something worthy of being exposed to the public. We are a byproduct of something that is happening in your country, and frankly we would much rather not be.”