Former president of GOP IT guru's firm dismisses allegations of foul play
Employees had awaited Connell at company Christmas partyCurtis Randy Cole, a close friend and former colleague of the GOP political consultant who died when his plane crashed in a suburb here last Friday, dismissed suspicions of foul play in an interview with RAW STORY Sunday evening.
In an interview at his Amesbury Street home where he based his recent failed run for Ohio State’s 41st District House seat last year, Cole, the former President of Michael Connell’s government contracting company GovTech Solutions, revealed how the bad news arrived to Connell’s friends and family members late Friday night. “I got a call from a GovTech employee late Friday that that his plane had crashed,” Cole said, “I thought ‘bad weather’ or ‘icing of the wings.’”
Connell’s employees and partners at GovTech and New Media Communications, were gathered for their annual Christmas party at offices the Connell companies have shared in nearby Richfield since August, Cole said. Connell is pictured above right.
“They were waiting for Mike. They were getting email alerts tracking his progress,” Cole explained.
Friends and colleagues were expecting Connell’s imminent arrival on a trip from College Park, Maryland because the last alert they received reported his clearance into Akron-Canton airspace. They expected he would be landing imminently and making the half hour drive to New Media offices. "When it got late, someone checked the news and learned his plane had crashed.”
Cole said that during his tenure as President of Govtech from 2005 until August of this year, he often flew with his boss on business trips on the same route he took the night his plane crashed. “I probably flew with Mike roundtrip to Washington on his a plane once a month. We’d arrive and each go off to separate meetings with clients and generally return the next day.”
Cole hasn't taken a job since his House run in order to take care of his wife, Teresa, who is receiving intensive treatment for cancer she was diagnosed with in October.
FAA records show Connell was an experienced “instrument-rated” pilot who had logged thousands of miles each year. Cole described Connell as an adept pilot who would manage the stability of the aircraft by drawing fuel from any one of four separate tanks and who would calculate on the fly whether the plane had the range to fly around a converging storm cell picked up on the plane’s sophisticated radar system.
Authorities investigating the crash, led by the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), have offered no explanation or details about the crash. Repeated calls to the regional office of the NTSB were not answered or returned.
In the days since the crash, a news vacuum has been created by the silence of authorities. Some familiar with his role as a witness in the Lincoln-Bronzeville Neighborhood Association v. Blackwell case contesting Bush's win of Ohio's electoral votes in 2004 and his RNC work, have cited reported threats made since July against Connell and raised the specter of foul play. Connell had recently testified in a suit alleging tampering with Ohio's 2004 results, which he adamantly denied any knowledge of.
A reporter for a Cleveland television station said Sunday that Connell had been warned his plane might be sabotaged.
"Connell...was apparently told by a close friend not to fly his plane because his plane might be sabotaged," 19 Action News reporter Blake Chenault said. "And twice in the last two months, Connell, who is an experienced pilot, canceled two flights because of suspicious problems with his plane."
Randy Cole isn't buying it. When told of the alleged threats Cole said that in all the hours he spent flying with his friend in the close-quartered cockpit of the Piper Saratoga, he says Connell never shared any worries or suggestions of threats or intimidation. For Cole, something went wrong and for him the weather was the most likely culprit.
In the wake of an Akron Beacon Journal report regarding a deterioration of weather conditions at the time of Connell’s approach to the Akron-Canton airport, RAW STORY sought to secure the same weather reporting streamed 24/7 to pilots, flight traffic controllers and other in need of accurate forecasts and current conditions in real time across the country.
FAA official Liz Corey refused to disclose hourly observations of “Quality Controlled Local Climatological Data” taken from the recording station at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport where Connell’s single engine Piper Saratoga was estimated to arrive at 5:46PM EST, citing jurisdictional issues. She referred questions to the NTSB.
RAW STORY was able to secure the weather data from the National Climate Data Center (NCDC) in Ashville, North Caroline. (Available here, with legend for interpreting data here). For the crash event time window between 5:35PM and approximately 6PM EST, visibility was 9-10 miles in broken cloud cover and temperatures hovered just above freezing, contradicting the 1 mile claim in the Akron Beacon Journal.
FAA spokesperson Laura Brown spoke to RAW STORY from her cell phone on her way to FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C., saying that an Incident Report was sitting on her desk. However, follow up calls and emails were not returned as of close of business Monday.
Over five hundred gathered quietly at a memorial at Billow Fairlawn Chapel Monday evening. They will have to be patient for answers. The FAA’s Liz Corey said that NTSB investigations can last several months to a year.
With original reporting from Akron, Ohio.
Correction: The Action 19 reporter's last name is spelled Chenault.