the ponyboy chronicles

Howell ID’d as Bush Press Plane Stowaway
July 11, 2003 Posted: 12:40 PM EDT

ENTEBBE (LBOZ) - A stowaway who flew from South Africa to Uganda on the press plane accompanying President Bush (news - web sites) on his visit to Africa was revealed to be American actor C. Thomas Howell, U.S. officials said.

U.S. Secret Service agents conducted a security sweep on the plane after Howell was detained and removed from the compound on the shores of Lake Victoria where Bush met Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni Friday.

"He did not have a credential. He did not have a passport. He has nothing," said White House travel office official Curtis Jablonka.

He said the chartered United Airlines Boeing 747 carrying about 130 members of the press, White House staff and Secret Service agents had been "thoroughly swept." The Secret Service typically provides security oversight for the delegation.

Howell reportedly used a “black-face” disguise similar to that used in his 1986 film Soul Man to impersonate a reporter and gain entry to the press plane.

A reporter from the American Urban Radio network, April Ryan, said she encountered Howell at the hotel used by the press in the South African capital Pretoria Friday morning.

"He said 'I'm going with you to Uganda"' said Ryan, who added that Howell described himself as a reporter from Soweto but did not appear to have any credentials. Ryan stated she had reservations about Howell’s assumed identity, given the “obviously fake dreadlock wig” and the “constant bobbing of his head and use of the phrases, ‘yah mon’ and ‘radical.’” In addition, Ryan claimed he asked her several times if she “wanted to party” with Howell, and if she had brought any “major doobage” with her on the trip, referring to a slang term used for marijuana.

She said her press pass was checked prior to boarding one of the buses taking delegation members to the airport. An official stopped Howell at the door of the bus but allowed him to enter when he said he was with the press.

Ryan said she lost track of Howell after that until she saw security officers drag him away shouting at the Ugandan resort complex. By then, she said, the dreadlock wig had partially fallen off, and the makeup was streaked with sweat.

U.S. officials claimed that initially on his capture, Howell continued to pretend to be an African reporter with a Jamaican accent even after security forces fully removed his facial makeup. Eventually, however, Howell gave in to pressure and admitted his identity to officials.

According to Jablonka, Howell then, “fell to his knees weeping and begging the security agents not to castrate him.” Jablonka assured reporters that Howell’s fate would not include castration, most likely a hearing in Federal court to determine what charges might eventually be filed against the actor. He did not, however, reveal whether Howell had stated any reason for the bizarre behavior.

Actress Rae Dawn Chong, Howell’s ex-wife and long-time friend, said in a written statement that Howell “has always taken great interest in world events, and has more recently talked at length about doing something bold and exciting to bring the world’s attention to problems like racism and hunger.” Her statement concluded that, “I truly thought he meant to host a charity dinner event. I’m genuinely baffled by his recent behavior and hope that our government shows mercy to a man clearly haunted by personal demons and in dire need of medication.”

Howell, the star of numerous films, including Soul Man, The Hitcher and, most recently, Gods and Generals, has been involved in a bizarre series of news stories that began in May 2002. Reports of a plane crash in China had the actor initially killed in the crash, then variously found alive, dead, returned to the U.S., missing, and finally discovered wandering in India prior to a supposed reunion with Chong at the Taj Mahal.

A subsequent investigation revealed that most, if not all, of the reported events never occurred, and were in fact an elaborate hoax perpetrated by three as-yet unidentified Chinese men.

Jablonka, however, confirmed that “without a doubt, this was not a hoax. I personally verified Howell’s identity, having been a fan since The Outsiders,” in which Howell played the lead character, Ponyboy Curtis.

Howell will be returned to the United States on the next available commercial flight, accompanied by Secret Service agents. He faces multiple charges in Federal Court.

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