Thursday, June 19, 2014

Incident occurred June 14, 2014 at Johnson County Airport (KBYG), Buffalo, Wyoming

An airplane accident disrupted the fourth annual Wings ‘n’ Wheels aviation show held at the Johnson County Airport on Saturday morning. The five children and the pilot inside the plane all escaped unharmed.

According to Martha Anderson, the air traffic control adviser at the event, the plane passed low on the runway without lowering its wheels, eventually sliding on its belly for approximately 300 feet.

“The wheels didn’t come down,” said pilot Doug McDuff, of Gillette.

In a fortuitous twist, a Wyoming Life Flight crew dropped by to show off their aircraft to the children and explain what they do. As soon as they heard the screeching noise ripping through the air, all the flight nurses and paramedics took off running.

So far, no injuries have been reported and the children apparently shrugged it off as a “really bumpy landing,” according to several witnesses. One even slept through the ride and the subsequent accident, McDuff said.

McDuff has a reputation for meticulous flying, according to Anderson, who worked with him for five years when she was an air traffic control manager at the Gillette tower before she retired.

“He’s just a fabulous pilot, one of the best,” Anderson said. She credits his skill as the main reason for the controlled landing.

The cause of the wheel malfunction was unknown at press time. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

Wings ‘n’ Wheels offered children a chance to experience flying for the first time, McDuff said. Amy Gerlock and her ex-husband, Aaron Gerlock, put together the event four years ago. Since then, Pilots for Christ took over the sponsorship, but the both Gerlocks remain heavily involved. The event has grown through the years, though the Saturday weather deterred a lot of visitors.

The event began with the Gerlocks’ love of flying.

“We just always had a love for aviation, and there was the hangar in Buffalo and we thought we would have a party,” Amy said.

The Wyoming chapter of Pilots for Christ, a national nonprofit recruiting pilots and drivers to transport people and families who need a ride to a hospital or for family bereavement purposes, organized the event for the next three years. The organization cooked the pancake breakfast and recruited the pilots.

At last year’s event, Wings ‘n’ Wheels completed 92 flights. This year, they flew about 25, according to McDuff, which allowed 68 children to fly.

Other events included touring the Wyoming Life Flight aircraft. Wyoming Life Flight is a medical program out of Casper that provides first aid to accident victims in remote places.

Face painting and a teddy bear rescue rounded out the event. More than 50 teddy bears were dropped from a helicopter piloted by Aaron Gerlock. Children lined up at the edge of the field behind the tarmac, prepared to outrace each other to rescue a bear.

“This is like the Hunger Games,” one child commented.

After the helicopter lifted from the field, the children burst on to the field, snatching up teddy bears.

Several children flew for the first time. Anneliese Engen, 9, attended to get used to flying.
“I want to learn how fly,” she said.

Other children weren’t so keen but enjoyed the experience.

“It was good,” said Sienna Lulias, 7, who said she “just wants to be teacher” when she grows up.

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