Police arrest flight school employees on suspicion of kidnapping student to send him back to China

Kelsi Hoser and Jonathan McConkey, who work at IASCO Flight Training school, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy and kidnapping.
(Redding Police Department)

Police arrested a flight school instructor and his assistant who are accused of kidnapping a student pilot in Redding and trying to send him back to China, authorities said.

Two IASCO Flight Training employees — Jonathan McConkey and his assistant, Kelsi Hoser — showed up to the trainee’s apartment Thursday night and told him he was going to be “shipped back” to China the following morning, said Redding Police Cpl. Rob Peterson. The trainee, Tianshu Shi, was not told why, Peterson said.

Shi had enrolled in the program through an organization that contracts with the school to train Chinese nationals, Peterson said. The Civil Aviation Authority of China sends up to 180 students to the program, according to the school’s website.

On Friday morning, McConkey and Hoser returned to the trainee’s apartment and told him to pack his bags.


Shi told the Record Searchlight that he didn’t sleep all night and that when the pair came back in the morning, he recorded the confrontation. The profanity-filled audio clip was obtained by the Searchlight.

“I’ve got your [expletive] passport, you’re leaving now,” a male voice says in the recording. He later adds, “The United States government needs you out of this country right now, you understand?”

“You are here illegal, you know that,” a female voice says later. “If you don’t go with us, you go to jail.”

During the conversation, Peterson said, McConkey shoved Shi into a countertop, knocking him to the floor. Peterson also said the suspects threatened to call the police on Shi, who had come to the country on a student visa. Fearing for his safety, authorities said, Shi got into their car.

At some point, Shi had managed to contact his brother in Shanghai and told him what was going on. When the brother didn’t hear back from Shi a short time later, he spoke to another flight school student who said Shi had been assaulted and kidnapped. Shi’s brother then called Redding police.

Officers found Shi, McConkey and Hoser at the Redding Municipal Airport, about seven miles from his apartment. Hoser told authorities that they were sending Shi back to China because his English wasn’t strong enough to safely communicate with the air traffic control tower, Peterson said.

They also told police they cut him from the program in April, but Shi said he was still in the program in May, Peterson said, calling the incident bizarre and confusing.

McConkey and Hoser were arrested and booked on suspicion of conspiracy and kidnapping, police said. Both were released from custody after posting bail, according to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office.

Shi told the Searchlight that he has been in the country for about seven months on a one-year visa for students who enroll in vocational programs. He told the newspaper that his university paid about $70,000 for him to train at the Redding flight school. For the last two months, he said, he has been “grounded,” unable to fly or train.

“I can’t speak English well in life, but I can speak English well with air traffic control,” he told the Searchlight.

He said he was relieved when police arrived.

“At that moment, police is my Jesus,” Shi said.

Twitter: @AleneTchek