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FAA Probes Wet T-Shirt Party

July 22, 1998

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ A high school charter flight to Mexico turned into ``Animal House″ at 25,000 feet when a crew member and howling boys staged a wet T-shirt contest, with girls dancing in the aisle and parading into the cockpit.

``Contestant No. 5, please. Some water for contestant No. 5. ... She’s dry!″ the attendant is heard saying on a shaky video taken by one of the boys who rushed forward to take a peek and drench the girls.

``We’re not going to land this plane until you girls get wet!″ students also heard the flight attendant say. ``We’ve only got so much fuel.″

About 150 high school students from across the Northwest booked the Falcon Air flight out of Portland on June 11 to celebrate graduation, without teachers or chaperones. Many on board said the revelry escalated after the plane touched down in Mazatlan, with a weeklong binge of fake orgasm contests, booze cruises and coed swimsuit-switching races.

The trip has triggered a Federal Aviation Administration investigation and a state probe of the company that organized the trip.

Parents complained that the glossy brochures promising ``perfect weather, sandy beaches and warm ocean waves″ gave no hint of the debauchery and shoddy accommodations their children would receive.

``Definitely I think we’re a victim of fraud,″ said Kippy Skeele, whose 18-year-old daughter Jamey went on the trip. ``Every parent was lied to.″

One of those who competed in the wet T-shirt contest, 18-year-old Mickel Bitle, said the girls spent about 15 minutes in the cockpit of the Boeing 727 and that the pilots helped judge the contestants. It is against FAA regulations for passengers to enter the cockpit during a flight.

``The pilots took their attention away from the instrument panel to look us up and down. They were pretty much telling the flight attendants who they thought should win the contest,″ Miss Bitle said in a sworn statement used in the FAA investigation.

A parent from Eugene notified the FAA after her 18-year-old daughter, Sara Walker, called home from Mazatlan the first night with details of the wet T-shirt contest.

Miss Walker said the rowdiness began about 2 1/2 hours into the flight when the male flight attendant announced over the intercom that he wanted to have a wet T-shirt contest and male passengers ponied up $60 in prize money.

Two girls volunteered, but the crew member kept cajoling more to take part. ``He walked down the aisle saying, `I’m going to pick a girl.′ And he would actually grab her and say, `You come up,‴ Jamey Skeele said.

Miss Skeele said five girls were then ushered into the cockpit of the Boeing 727. The four-minute video showed only the girls walking out of the cockpit. It did not show the pilots.

Miss Walker, who is a novice pilot with 60 hours of flight time, said she was worried about safety: ``If we have a plane full of irresponsible, unprofessional pilots, crew and students, who the hell’s flying the plane?″

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the agency is investigating several possible violations of federal regulations, among them: that passengers were let into the cockpit; that passengers endangered the flight; and that the crew participated in the raucous behavior.

Jose Lazaga, executive vice president of Miami-based Falcon Air, declined comment. The FAA investigation could take weeks. If found in violation, Falcon Air _ which operates two 727s _ could lose its license.

A group of 40 parents is also targeting Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel Inc., the Phoenix-based company that organized the trip under the name Student Tours. They say that the tour group sold parents a $525 package offering a safe, well-managed week and that their children came back with stories of something much different.

``During orientation, the first thing they told us was, `I’ll make this quick because I know you want to get drunk and (have sex), and I don’t want to keep you from that,‴ said 17-year-old Nicki Durbin of Eugene. ``Everything revolved around sex and drinking.″

Prosecutors with the Oregon’s Attorney General’s Office said sex and drinking fall outside the scope of their probe of the tour group, which focuses on possible violations of trade practices laws. Some students claim they didn’t get what they were promised from the $160 wristbands entitling them to food and entertainment. Others said they booked two-person rooms and ended up being crammed into rooms with as many as 10.

Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel officials did not return numerous calls seeking comment.

Some of the students say the parents who have raised complaints are blowing things out of proportion.

``Everyone was saying, `We’re going to be drunk for a week,‴ said 18-year-old Jeremy Ecklund of Kalama, Wash. ``They knew what we were going down there for. My expectations were met pretty well.″

``The wet T-shirt contest was a pretty high moment for me,″ he added. ``I’ll probably never see something like that happening on a plane again.″

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