A FedEx pilot with an apparent connection to Niceville has been detained by Chinese authorities in connection with his allegedly carrying nearly 700 nonmetallic air-gun pellets as he was boarding a flight to Hong Kong. The pilot's arrest comes as pro-democracy protesters have clashed with police in Hong Kong, and as trade talks between the United States and China appear to be faltering.
NICEVILLE — A FedEx pilot with an apparent connection to Niceville is being detained in China after authorities there found nearly 700 nonmetallic air-gun pellets in his luggage as he was flying out of Guangzhou to Hong Kong, a nearby semi-autonomous region of China. The pilot was detained Sept. 12 and remains in China as an investigation of what authorities there are characterizing as suspected ammunition smuggling proceeds, according to media reports.
The pilot has not been officially identified, but The Wall Street Journal last week identified him as Todd A. Hohn, a former Air Force pilot who does have a Niceville address, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database. The Wall Street Journal reported that it had contacted Hohn's Niceville attorney, whom it did not identify, and whom the Daily News has not been able to contact.
The attorney reportedly confirmed Hohn's arrest to the Wall Street Journal. The Daily News on Monday called a telephone number associated with Hohn's Niceville address, but the call went unanswered.
The pilot was not identified by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang during his regular press conference on Sept. 20, but Shuang did confirm the alleged incident when asked for details and for information on the pilot's ongoing detention.
"According to the information we learned from relevant departments, on the morning of Sept. 12, the customs inspectors of the Guangzhou Baiyun Airport found what was suspected to be a box of 681 air gun pellets in the luggage of an American outbound passenger, who was identified as a FedEx pilot," Shuang said, according to a transcript of the press conference.
In further comments, Shuang said the pilot "flied (sic) a FedEx cargo plane into Guangzhou as a co-pilot on Sept. 11 and was to leave Guangzhou for Hong Kong by flight on Sept. 12. Compulsory measures were taken by the airport customs to summon him by warrant and release him on bail pending trial for suspected crimes of smuggling weapons or ammunition."
According to Shuang, the U.S. consulate-general Guangzhou was notified of the incident on Sept. 13.
"The case is still under investigation," Shuang said.
The incident comes amid pro-democracy protests, with demonstrators clashing with police in the streets of Hong Kong as the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, on Oct. 1, is looming. The detention of the pilot also comes as trade negotiations between the United States and China are showings signs of faltering.
According to some media reports, the pilot is staying in a hotel as the investigation proceeds.
FedEx is offering only limited comment, although the company does confirm the basics of the story without providing the pilot's name.
“FedEx confirms that Chinese authorities in Guangzhou detained and later released one of our pilots on bail after an item was found in his luggage prior to a commercial flight. We are working with the appropriate authorities to gain a better understanding of the facts,” said Shannon E. Davis, communications advisor with FedEx Services, in a Monday email to the Daily News.
The incident has attracted attention among Florida's congressional delegation. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., whose district covers Northwest Florida including Niceville, said in a Monday email that the "reports regarding former U.S. Air Force colonel Todd Hohn’s detainment in Guangzhou, China, are deeply concerning."
Gaetz went on to say he is "in close communication with the White House and the Department of State as they seek to gain more information on the circumstances surrounding the detainment. I will continue to monitor the situation and look forward to Todd’s swift and safe release.”