Thursday, July 26, 2012

Starke County Airport (KOXI), Knox, Indiana: Strong winds left a path of destruction




KNOX – Downed trees and power lines and mangled metal: Starke County’s Emergency Management director said it’s a mess.

“It just hit so fast,” said Director Ted Bombagetti. “From our office, you couldn’t see across the courthouse. Rain was coming down so heavy.”

After Tuesday morning’s storm, 911 and emergency responders moved quickly and never lost communication.

Bombagetti said looking at the damage to a tower, he couldn’t believe it.

“I guess luck was on our side, on this one,” said Bombagetti.

Outside the Starke County Jail, cranes helped crews fix the antenna and repair the damage to the tower, as power crews reconnected lines whipped by winds, but things are at a stand-still at Starke County’s airport.

With the Osh-Kosh fly In in Wisconsin, this week was supposed to be a big money-maker. Not anymore.

No power means no way for pilots to refuel.

“You just hope to God they got enough fuel to go from here to next stop,” said Pam Beharry, airport manager.

The airport authority expects to lose between $2,000 to $5,000 this week because of the storm and lack of power.

The loss won’t hurt the airport in the long run, but, again, Beharry said the loss is a big deal to the small airport. 

A handful of business in Knox and throughout Starke County count on the airport.

“If we do not have electricity, the doors won’t open and our planes can’t get outside to fly,” said Ben Tubbs, a flight instructor for students at Culver Military Academy

Even though runways are clear, debris from the damage is hard to miss.

“I question the straight-line winds scenario, due to the amount of damage in a path,” said Bombagetti.

Bombagetti wants the National Weather Service to come down and take a look at the damage, just to be sure it was not a tornado. 

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STARKE CO., Ind. -- The Starke County Airport was hit especially hard by Tuesday morning's storms. 

 Planes there were tipped on their noses and wings. The wind even ripped the roof off of one hangar, and destroyed two other hangars used to store private planes.

In all, it's expected to take days to clean up. It appears the damage was caused by straight line winds.

A handful of employees were at the airport beginning their shifts when the storm quickly approached.

24-year-old Nathan Foreman, an employee for Dungan Aerial road out the storm in one of the hangars that ended up having the most damage. He said he ran inside and closed both the north and south overhead doors as the wind really picked up speed. He said he decided to  get on his hands and knees and crouch underneath a staircase made of wood.

"I'd say 30 seconds later the winds were blowing like no other and I watched it blow the roof off and I looked around and I noticed there were no walls around," said Foreman. All of four of the walls were ripped off by the winds and were scattered in pieces around the airport property and way beyond.

Foreman said, "My heart was pounding and I was scared, I mean personally I really thought I was going to die."

Jeff Dixon, the assistant manager of the Starke County Airport was riding out the storm in the administration building with a few others. He said, "the wind picked up so bad the last recording I had on the meter I had was 94 knots which is 120mph."

Foreman said, "it only last for 45 seconds probably, but it seemed longer."

The wind blew strong enough to cause damage to several of the planes and scatter so much debris that Pam Beherry, the airport manager said it is officially closed until further notice. The airport is with out electricity so workers were racing the clock this evening to get as much picked up as they can. Damage done to the airport's fence means the staff will be providing security around the clock.

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