CINCINNATI – Greenpeace duped a local helicopter service into flying a photographer and videographer over the group's protest at Procter & Gamble headquarters Tuesday, the owner told WCPO.
Steve Paquette of Stratus Helicopters said they thought they were hired for a typical downtown photo shoot. The two shooters never said they worked for Greenpeace and the person who booked the flight never mentioned the activist group, either, Paquette said.
"We were completely duped," Paquette said. "If we had known that we were being contracted to videotape something illegal, we wouldn't have done it."
Paquette denied rumors that the helicopter landed the Greenpeace activists on the roof of the P&G towers.
"I helped load and unload the aircraft and the same people that got on were the same people that got off," Paquette said.
Paquette said a caller from the New York area originally booked a copter for a photo flight downtown on Feb. 26, then rescheduled for Tuesday.
The party identified himself as Tim Aubry and paid with a credit card, Paquette said.
Paquette said Stratus does 50 to 100 photo flights per year, so Lunken Airport manager Fred Anderton said he didn't think there was anything unusual when the copter - a small, four-seat Robinson 44 - took off from Lunken at 12:20 p.m.
"We do see them out here on a daily basis," Anderton said. "They do flight instruction and then they do the sightseeing flights and flights for photographers quite routinely."
The two passengers identified themselves as Mitch and John, Paquette said.
About 20 minutes into the flight, Greenpeace video recorded the photographer telling the pilot something was happening at P&G headquarters.
The pilot thought it was window washers, but the photographer replied, "That's cool. Let's go over there and take some pictures."
That's when nine Greenpeace activists outside the towers unfurled two 60-foot banners to call attention to the group's claim that P&G contributes to tropical deforestation.
About the same time, Anderton got an unusual call from the FBI.
"They were asking specifically about federal regulations -- flight regulations -- that might have been violated," Anderton said.
The call was referred to the FAA Cincinnati flight standards office in Eastgate.
The agency had gotten complaints that the helicopter had landed on the P&G towers.
Aviation Safety Inspector Greg Schaper said that turned out to be false.
"They did have some contact with Stratus Helicopter (and) determined that they had not committed any kind of violation," Anderton said. "The case, as far as they were concerned, has been cleared and there's no further investigation that will be conducted at this time."
Paquette would not identify the helicopter pilot.
Stratus billed Aubry $540 for the 50-minute flight, Paquette said. The helicopter service charges $10 per minute, he said.
"We were an innocent bystander in this," Paquette said.
Paquette said he might have to change his booking policy and demand more information about the purpose of a flight upfront.
"I don't like these guys using us to do their illegal stuff," he said.