Sunday, December 01, 2013

Ice forces plane landing: Vegans help during unplanned stop

Capt. Cody Brown scrapes ice from a U.S. Air Force Academy plane on Wednesday morning. Brown and his crew were forced to make an emergency landing in Las Vegas Saturday because of the weather.
Photo Courtesy/Credit:  Mercy López/Optic

Several cadets and officers from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs found themselves in a bind Saturday morning.

The nine of them were flying to Tucson when they had to make an emergency landing in Las Vegas due to ice build-up on the aircraft.

Capt. Sarah Towler and Capt. Cody Brown were able to land the aircraft, “Ice Maiden,” on the snow-covered runway right before noon on Saturday. Along with them were seven members of Rings of Blue, the Academy’s performing parachuting team.

“Thanks to the town of Las Vegas for helping us out here,” Towler said.

The ordeal was a scary and frightening one while up in the sky. Brown said they knew there was icing within the clouds and their plan was to stay below the clouds until the last possible chance.

“We expected only light icing,” Brown, a native of Moriarty, said. “For the first half hour headed south there were no issues… but then we were just a few minutes north of here (Las Vegas) it just started building up really fast. It was definitely a higher icing issue at that point.”

The crew continued to fly but soon realized there were  two to three inches of ice build-up on the plane.

“Once it starts building up on itself it expands,” Brown said. “By the time we landed, there were 3 inch pieces that were coming off.”

Brown said the ice build-up could potentially create multiple safety issues.

“You don’t know how much weight it has added. You don’t know where the weight is distributed so it is changing your aerodynamic forces,” Brown said. “It gets in your controls and Sarah was flying when the controls were sluggish for her, which is bad. You don’t know when it is going to lock up your elevator and all of a sudden you stall.”

So, they made the decision to do an emergency landing at the Las Vegas airport, just north of the city.

Towler said, “It was really scary.”

Upon their approach, they found the runway snow-covered with only the outline visible.

“Sarah flew a great landing in and the snow was so thick on the runway it slowed us down. We probably stopped within 400 feet or less. It was amazing,” Brown said.

Upon their landing, they were able to contact Krutick Bhakta, owner of the Best Western Montezuma Inn and Suites, and he went to pick them up from the airport.

“We were breathing pretty heavy once we stopped,” Brown said.

The group of nine had their trip to Tucson for training postponed for a couple of days as their plane remained grounded due to the blistering cold weather.

But their unexpected visit to Las Vegas was filled with good people helping them out. Bhakta shuttled them around town to purchase some necessities at Walmart and took them around town including a stop to JCs New York Pizza in the Plaza Park area.

Brown said others who helped included the city of Las Vegas Fire Department, Best Western Montezuma Inn and Suites, Superior Ambulance, along with several others.

“We were definitely glad that the airport and everyone was here to help,” Brown said.

They were able to de-ice the plane on Wednesday morning, and they headed out to their Thanksgiving training in Tucson, where several members will jump off the plane.

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