Sunday, April 01, 2012

Variable wind causes minor plane crash at Lincoln Regional Airport (KLRG), Maine

Several volunteers use a logging machine and some strapping to right a Glasair 1 airplane that went off the runway and nosed over at Lincoln Regional Airport on Sunday, April 1, 2012. 

It's a somber moment for airplane co-owners Mark Weatherbee and Brian Souers [right] as they gaze at the Glasair 1 airplane that went off the runway at Lincoln Regional Airport and flipped over with Souers at the helm on Sunday, April 1, 2012.

Its co-owner, Mark Weatherbee of Lincoln, looks over the Glasair 1 airplane that went off the runway at Lincoln Regional Airport and flipped over on Sunday, April 1, 2012. 

LINCOLN, Maine — Brian Souers wanted to be one of those pilots who never crashed an airplane, but a few seconds of sudden, nasty tailwind derailed that goal.

Souers was landing his Glasair 1 experimental craft at Lincoln Regional Airport at about 2:50 p.m. Sunday when a gust lifted the tail of the plane, which went off the runway, flipped onto its nose and landed on its back, he said.

“The wind has been variable all day,” Souers said. “I feel bad about the [damage to the airplane], but I certainly feel good that it wasn’t worse than it was.”

With some assistance from other pilots at the airport, Souers climbed out from under the plane with cuts and bruises. The plane had damage to its nose and propeller, a cracked cockpit canopy and a break at the top of its tail. It is repairable, Souers said.

Firefighters treated him at the scene and police took a report for referral to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Pilot Caio Furtado was in his plane on a taxiway awaiting Souers’ landing so he could take off when the crash occurred. The 29-year-old Enfield man said Souers was the victim of unpredictable conditions and bad timing.

Weather forecasts predicted 16 mph gusts from the south, not the northwest winds that Souers encountered, Furtado said. The gust hit the speedy Glasair just as he was landing. A few seconds later and it might not have made any difference.

When the gust hit, Souers braked and wrestled to keep the aircraft centered in the runway, but the plane went off the left side, where his braking and the soft ground made it easy for the plane’s two front wheels to dig into the soft ground, Furtado said.

“The problem is, when you have a tailwind and it is gusting like that, you can lose control of the plane very easily,” Furtado said, “especially when you have a tail-wheeler like he does.”

A tail-wheeled craft like Souers’ doesn’t typically allow for a tail-first landing. They must land front wheels first, which keeps the airplane’s tail aloft and vulnerable to sudden changes in wind, Furtado said.

Crashes and emergency landings are a fairly rare occurrence at Lincoln Regional Airport. The last reported incident on the 2,800-foot runway occurred when a new Hangar 1 Vodka blimp was forced to land there last May because one of its ground-crew pickup trucks needed repair.

The owner of Treeline Inc., a local logging and trucking company, Souers lives in Lincoln and has been a pilot since he was 18, logging about 400 hours of flying time, he said. He and almost a dozen other pilots and spectators at the airport used a Treeline crane to right the plane and pull it off the runway to its hangar.

He and plane co-owner Mark Weatherbee each have about 80 hours in the Glasair, Weatherbee said. 

Souers apologized to Weatherbee for damaging their plane. Weatherbee told Souers not to worry about it and said he was glad that Souers wasn’t hurt.

“You’re a good pilot,” Weatherbee gently told Souers. “I’m sure you will fly again.”

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