URGENT Former U.S. Astronaut Under House Arrest, Report of Alleged Spying
ERZURUM, Turkey (AP) _ Former U.S. astronaut James Irwin said he was put under house arrest at a hotel here Saturday pending an investigation into allegations that he engaged in espionage while searching for Noah’s Ark.
Irwin denied the charge.
Seven others, five American members of Irwin’s team and two Dutch television crewmen, also were detained, he said.
″There were some allegations against James Irwin that he used the search for the Noah’s Ark as a cover of spying,″ the independent Hurriyet news agency said, quoting unnamed officials.
On Thursday, Irwin and a two-member Dutch television crew flew over Mount Ararat and filmed the area.
Officials said they may have filmed sensitive military areas along Turkey’s border with Iran and the Soviet Union. Mount Ararat is adjacent to the Soviet and Iranian borders.
Hurriyet said Irwin, five members of his team and the two Dutch film-makers were under house arrest at a hotel in Erzurum in eastern Turkey. Police had cordoned off the hotel, it said.
Irwin confirmed the detention in a telephone interview with The Associated Press but denied the spying allegation.
″Two members of our team wanted to leave for Ankara this morning and they were told that they could not leave until local police complete an investigation,″ said Irwin, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo.
He said they were detained on charges of making an illegal flight and taking illegal pictures.
Asked if they had permission for the flight, Irwin replied, ″Yes we had. Without that how could we get clearance to fly?″
Irwin had also publicly announced his intention to scout out the area by plane earlier this week.
The Dutch filmmakers, who were working on a documentary film on Irwin’s expedition, are director Jan Vandenbosch and cameraman Willen Vanschaaik.
″We have a letter of permission from the Foreign Ministry to fly and to film,″ Vandenbosch said. ″We gave everything we filmed as proof to the Turkish authorities that we have done nothing wrong. We gave 10 rolls of film and 21 rolls of photograph transparencies.″
Irwin, who has climbed the mountain five times, arrived here on Wednesday in his quest to find the ark.
The Bible says Noah’s Ark came to rest near Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey after the great flood.
The members of Irwin’s team are his wife Mary, Bob Cornuke, Bill Dodder -all from Colorado Springs - Bob Stuplich, of Crested Butte, Colo., and Dick Bright, whose hometown was not immediately available.