PITTSTON TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Congressional representatives from northeastern Pennsylvania are looking into a series of chartered planes that arrived at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International airport over the past few weeks.
Airport officials and the operator of the company that handles charter flights at the airport confirm four planes carried minors as well as adult chaperones and interpreters. Those same officials say the flights originated from Texas.
The December 11th a flight headed to New York was diverted to Avoca. A second flight on December 17th, headed to Allentown, was also diverted to Avoca. Two more scheduled flights landed at AVP on December 25th. We spoke with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport Executive Director Carl Beardsley.
“These flights that have originated in El Paso, Texas. They have flown to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. From there, buses that take the people who were on the plane to where ever they need to go,” Beardsley explained.
Aviation Technologies Inc. handles all charter flights at the airport. The president of the company, Jim Gallagher, says these flights were different than charters he has seen in the past. He recalls the December 11th flight in particular.
“But this was unique in that when they landed it was a lot of adolescent kids with chaperones and interpreters… Getting on buses and that particular flight went down to Brooklyn New York. The flight didn’t’ the buses did,” Gallagher recalled.
Gallagher says there were about 130 children and teens on each of the flights.
“We put them on buses, buses departed, they could not disclose where the buses were going at that point but we usually don’t get involved with where they are headed on the buses. They usually don’t share that information ever,” said Gallagher.
Congressman Dan Meuser tells Eyewitness News he will be meeting with the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday to discuss the flights.
“Why is this being done. Have these individuals been properly vetted for criminal background records? Have they been tested? Have they been vaccinated? Where are they going?,” Meuser asked.
Congressman Matt Cartwright released the following statement:
“These are legitimate concerns and we’ve been looking into it. We know that during the last two administrations, federal agencies have responded to overcrowding issues by relocating unaccompanied children to the custody of properly screened family members, host sponsors, and charitable institutions.”Congressman Matt Cartwright
Gallagher tells Eyewitness News the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport (AVP) is a certified vendor for military and government flights.
According to Gallagher, government flights to AVP are common, including military, state officials, prisoner movements and ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). He added, other than children being on board, it was a typical flight that they would handle for the government. Gallagher says on December 11, one particular flight was a weather diversion from New York which is “very standard” for their operations.
On December 17, a second flight designated as an ICE charter flight was diverted from Allentown to AVP and on December 25, two World Atlantic Flights, WAL 692 and 694, landed at AVP at 6:47pm and 8:50pm. Gallagher says both flights were designated as ICE.
Eyewitness News reached out to ICE regarding the December 25 flights and spokesperson Mary Houtmann said, “it appears those two flights are not ICE.”
Houtmann suggested Eyewitness News reach out to the Department of Health and Human Services, specifically the Office of Refugee Resettlement. We are awaiting their response.
Gallagher has since contacted Eyewitness News and specified that while the paperwork designates the flights as ICE, it is actually another division of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services that is coordinating the flights.
Airport officials have said the flights were chartered by the U.S. government. What’s not clear is the nature of the flights and who the passengers were. Buses were at the airport and carried the passengers away to an undisclosed location.
Eyewitness News has been working to confirm who was on board the flights.
Eyewitness News did reach out to the U.S Department of Health and human Services for comment. We have not heard a response. We also reached out to the charter company hired by the government, no response from them either. Gallagher says there are possibly more flights coming in the near future.
Eyewitness News will continue to follow this story and provide any updates.