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""Mexico — Gunmen held up a family of U.S. tourists in Mexico on Tuesday and made off with their small plane, police said. The robbers attacked the plane as the American couple and their two daughters, ages 6 and 8, were about to take off from a hotel airstrip in the Baja California beach town of Mulege. Detective Juan Carlos de Jesus Jimenez said the thieves pulled a car in front of the six-seat Cessna Stationair, knocked out one of its windows and forced the tourists out at gunpoint. They then set fire to the car and flew off in the plane. U.S. officials said they had heard reports about the incident but had not yet been in contact with the victims. The plane's identification number matched a craft registered to a company in Boise, Idaho. Small aircraft are commonly used by Mexican drug cartels to smuggle narcotics.""
Today: The last time Patrick Moroney saw his Cessna Stationair 206, it was flying away from a rural airstrip in Mulege, Mexico - hijacked by gun-toting drug runners who left him and his stunned family abandoned beside a burning car.
Moroney still hasn't heard anything about the fate of his plane - either by the US or Mexican authorities - and he is glad, since he figures it has been used for nefarious purposes.
"The plane is gone forever, as far as I am concerned," Moroney said. "I haven't heard if the Mexican government found it or not. And if they do find it, now it belongs to the insurance company."
A year later, violence in Mexico has gotten so bad the U.S. government has warned spring breakers and other travelers to be wary or avoid going altogether. For the first time, the Moroneys - who own the Cobby's Sandwich Shops around the Treasure Valley - sat down with the Statesman and offered details of their harrowing experience.
Moroney blames the hijacking on bad timing. He had the right plane - the Cessna 206 is favored by drug runners for its cargo doors and storage - in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"There were 50 planes at the airport the day before, but only one C-206," he said.
Four Cessnas have been stolen in Mexico since the day the Moroneys watched theirs fly away - and three of those were 206s, according to the Aviation Crime Prevention Institute.
Both Moroney and his wife, Kim, have had their share of sleepless nights and moments of panic over the last year, but mostly they remember the feeling of disbelief.
"I was so damn mad. ... I was just ... it was like, 'Those SOBs just got my airplane!'" Pat Moroney said. "They took the computers, cameras, money ... it was all gone."
They haven't been contacted by the Mexican government or law enforcement since leaving the country last May.
The only information they did get was from people who live in Mulege who told Moroney that two people believed to be involved were found by the Mexican government weeks after the hijacking. One was dead, beaten and burned. The other was in jail.
"SCARY AS HELL"
April 14, 2008, started normally enough for the Moroneys, who were on vacation with Kim's brother and his wife and their two girls, ages 6 and 8.
They had spent some time at a rented home in Mulege and were going to fly around Baja for a few days. They packed up the plane and Moroney taxied down the U-shaped runway.
They were almost through the turn when he saw several men jumping over bushes and a fence onto the runway. A car blocked the plane.
"As soon as I saw the gun, I knew exactly what they were after," Moroney said.
One of the bandits broke the window in the driver's door with a large rock.
"He reached inside and pulled the door open ... then he was yelling at me not to shut off the engine, because they know the engines in those airplanes are hard to start once they get hot," Moroney said. "So I turned it off. I was going to make this as difficult as I could.
"I thought there was no way I am getting my family out of this plane with a propeller moving. They jerked me out of the plane."
"Everyone in the back of the airplane was confused because the intercom was turned off," Kim Moroney said. "When I saw the gun, I tried to explain to my sister-in-law that they wanted to steal the airplane and we have to get out."
One of the bandits tried to get Kim Moroney out of the plane and take her purse. She was so concerned about getting the girls, she elbowed him back without thinking.
"I kept telling them, 'las ninas, las ninas,' because I don't think they knew the girls were in the back," she said. "We were not moving without them."
On the other side of the plane, the bandits had thrown Pat Moroney to the ground. When he sprung back up, one of the bandits pointed a gun at him.
"They told me I was going to die," Pat Moroney said. "I told them I have to get my family, and I wouldn't go back down. Then I saw Kim and the kids running on the runway. They were out. So then I was OK. It was a huge relief."
The two remember different faces from those few moments. Kim Moroney recalls a young man who looked to be about 16 - not much older than the two girls.
"I think he was just as afraid as I was," she said.
Her husband can still see the bandit who pointed the gun.
"I'll never forget that guy's face - the cold, dead eyes never showed one bit of emotion," he said. "I don't think he ever would have flinched if he shot me."
The bandits lit the car on fire to destroy any evidence before all six men piled into the plane. It was so full of cargo and hijackers that it barely took off by the end of the runway.
"We were just standing there," Pat Moroney said. "I couldn't believe what happened."
The two young girls were scared but didn't really understand what happened, Kim Moroney said.
"They were more upset that the airplane was stolen. That is what got them the most," she said. "They were like, 'How could they do that?' "
The Moroneys spent the next few days with Mexican federal police investigators, going over the hijacking again and again.
Kim Moroney had been able to keep her purse, and Pat Moroney his wallet. She managed to grab the girls' backpacks and almost grabbed her husband's, but the bandits pushed her away before she could get it.
It held their passports and their money.
Kim Moroney's brother's family still had lodging reservations in Los Barilles, near the southern tip of Baja. They decided the best thing to do was finish their vacation - to not let the thieves steal that, too.
Because Kim's brother's family flew into the central Baja town of Loreto on a commercial airline, they were able to get boarding letters from the U.S. government to get back into the country after a few days of negotiation.
It would not be so smooth for Pat and Kim Moroney.
Congressman to the rescue. The Moroneys had flown their own plane to Mexico, so no airline had a record of their citizenship.
They couldn't buy commercial tickets because the U.S. government consulate in Tijuana would not send them the letter they needed. Negotiations took almost three weeks.
Officials eventually told them they would have to take a bus to Tijuana - a 10-hour ride - and cross the border by showing their driver's licenses, Kim Moroney said. The couple was livid.
"We were not going to take a bus to the most violent city in Mexico - it was ludicrous," Pat Moroney said.
"When I asked the U.S. consulate about the boarding letter, he said we only do that for special cases," Kim Moroney said. "I didn't know what to say to the guy - I would consider my husband and I special cases. We just went through an assault."
Kim Moroney called then-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's staffers. They promised to help but nothing happened.
But less than two hours after her initial conversation with one of then-U.S. Rep. Bill Sali's employees, the congressman called back.
"He called from D.C. and told us we were his No. 1 priority," she said. "Within hours, we got a phone call from the U.S. consulate. They said, 'It appears you and your husband know the right people, because we have been forced to order you a border letter.'"
Readers View: "This guy might be good at making sandwiches but he doesn't sound like the sharpest knife in the drawer. He's EXTREMELY lucky his entire family didn't end up dead. Who flies his family in a Cessna 206 (the "widow-maker") to MEXICO for a vacation?! Are you kidding me?
Another: "Visiting Mexico for any reason is lunacy. Those people are lucky they escaped with their lives and safety. The place has always been in a state of anarchy, only worse now. Expect to get tortured and beheaded for going to that nation."
Another: "Looks like we need to clean house in the Consulate. They were "forced" to help US citizens??? Excuse Me? No help without a push shows total corruption."
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