Cops ground Middle Keys pilot on felony counts

A Marathon man with no pilot's license stands accused of recklessly flying an aircraft with no registration.

John Walsh, 46, was arrested Tuesday on two felony charges stemming from a Sept. 14 incident at the Sandbar anchoring spot off Islamorada's Whale Harbor Channel.

Walsh's aircraft, an M-Squared Breese 2 ultralight built from a kit and fitted with seaplane pontoons, was seized by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office for possible forfeiture.

A witness -- identified as a Federal Aviation Administration safety inspector -- said he was near the Sandbar when he saw Walsh's small seaplane "make a low altitude fly-by, about 25 feet above a group of boats and people."

The pilot landed the two-seat aircraft near boats on the water and started "soliciting customers for a ride in the plane for 'three 20 dollar bills,'" according to a Sheriff's Office report.

The inspector alerted the FAA security office in Miami, and the agency asked the Sheriff's Office for help. Brooks Bateman, director of the Sheriff's Office Aviation Division, found Walsh doesn't have a pilot's license or a license to carry passengers for hire.

Walsh was charged with operation of an aircraft "in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another" and having an unregistered aircraft. Both are felonies.