Monday, August 12, 2013

Piper PA-24-250 Comanche, TTI Environmental Inc., N7223P: Accident occurred August 12, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina

A pilot forced to make an emergency landing without the plane's landing gear at a downtown Columbia airport on Monday was involved in a similar incident in Alabama in 2009, according to Federal Aviation Administration records released Tuesday.

Lee Buffington, owner of an Fort Payne, Ala., landscaping business, had to make a belly landing in Tuscaloosa Regional Airport three years ago.

Buffington was flying a four-seat Piper PA-24-250 registered plane for a 20-minute check flight of new radios when he was unable to extend the landing gear, according to FAA records.

Buffington was piloting the same single-engine plane made in 1960 on Monday when the landing gear would not come down, forcing him to slide along the Hamilton-Owens Airport runway to a stop. He was not injured.

Efforts to reach Buffington were unsuccessful. A woman answering the phone at his business, Turf Tamer, on Tuesday said Buffington was in meetings all day in South Carolina.

As part of its investigation of the emergency landing in Columbia, the FAA is looking at why the aircraft's registration was not renewed after expiring on June 30.

The agency had no enforcement records on Buffington.

Buffington was flying from Fort Payne in northeastern Alabama to Hamilton-Owens Airport when he reported being unable to extend his landing gear Monday afternoon.

The aircraft made about five low-level passes over the general-aviation airport in the Rosewood neighborhood before landing.

Each time, Buffington pulled up a few feet before touching down on the runway, apparently practicing the landing approach.

The plane then flew in a wide circle around the airport, using up potentially explosive fuel before attempting the landing.

As the plane would gain altitude and roar over Superior Street, near the airport, bystanders snapping photos and videos with their smartphones clearly could see the landing gear, locked against the plane’s body.

Workers at the nearby City Roots urban farm, just across the fence from an end of the runway, continued to harvest vegetables and pull weeds, only stopping to look up when the plane flew low overhead.

Police blocked off all traffic on streets next to the small airport and aviation officials closed the airport while the plane circled. Columbia Fire Department trucks were called to the scene as the plane circled.

About 4:45 p.m. — roughly an hour after news about the plane’s troubles first broke — Buffington lowered the belly of the aircraft gently onto the runway.

The plane slid briefly to an uneventful halt. Buffington bolted out of plane as a Columbia Fire Department truck drove up. No smoke or flame were visible. He returned to the plane to retrieve some gear. Firefighters then began inspecting the aircraft.

When the streets re-opened around the airport, a stream of onlookers drove slowly between the airport and nearby soccer fields, stopping briefly to take pictures.

The airport reopened around 6:30 p.m. Monday after fire crews were able to lift the plane away from the runway, Hamilton-Owens director Chris Eversmann said.

Authorities did not say why the plane’s landing gear malfunctioned. Buffington was cloistered in the Hamilton-Owens Airport aviation office and declined to talk to the media.

Hamilton-Owens Airport is popular for smaller aircraft because of its proximity to downtown Columbia and Williams-Brice Stadium. During the past 13 years, at least five people have died and another two have been injured seriously in five accidents and emergency landings near Hamilton-Owens Airport, according to news reports.



Piper PA-24-250 (N7223P) without landing gear circles over Columbia's Hamilton-Owens Airport on August 12, 2013., Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather 

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -   It was just a few tense moments, really. The plane, a 1960 Piper PA-24, circled the runway at Columbia's Jim Hamilton - L.B. Owens Airport as the pilot spoke with crews on the ground, trying to make the right choices that would help him sit the plane down.

Crews asked him to dump fuel, but he was unable to do so, according to Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins.

"He had about 3 hours of fuel left on the plane," said Jenkins.

With that amount of fuel left, decisions had to be made and manuevers had to be perfected.

And so the pilot made several practice attempts at the runway; each time, he would pull up just before sliding the plane's belly into the ground.

Finally, around 4:40 p.m., word came that the pilot was finally ready to land the plane.

The pilot made a final circle around the airport before targeting the runway one last time. He put the plane down slowly and skidded to a stop in a grassy portion near the runway.

"He actually came down in a straight line as if he had the landing gear down," said Jenkins.

The still-unidentified pilot was uninjured.

According to the website, the single-engine plane was in route to Columbia from Ft. Payne, Alabama. The plane is registered to TTI Enviromental, Inc. However, that registration shows up expired. It's not clear why the registration wasn't valid, but the FAA confirms they're looking into it.

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An airplane performed an emergency landing Monday afternoon at the Hamilton-Owens Airport after its landing gear failed to deploy. 

The plane landed without wheels deployed after several passovers at the Rosewood-area airport.

The small aircraft hit the runway smoothly on a final pass and the pilot ran from the aircraft unscathed.

The single-engine aircraft is a 53-year-old Piper PA-24-250 registered to TTI Environmental Inc. of Fort Payne, Ala., according to FAA records.

The aircraft's registration certificate, however, expired on June 30, according to the agency. A FAA spokeswoman said she could not provide history on the aircraft until Tuesday.

The four-seat plane left Isbell Field in Fort Payne in northeastern Alabama shortly before 2 p.m., according to Flightaware, a website that tracks aircraft travel. The flight was supposed to take one hour and 41 minutes.

The pilot declined to talk with reporters at the field.

Efforts to reach the company were unsuccessful.

Fire and rescue crews were on the scene to douse any potential fires and treat injuries from the landing. There were no flames, however. The pilot was not transported to a hospital, either.

The airport closed while the pilot performed the landing, and the area surrounding Owens Airfield was also closed to land traffic.