Monday, August 11, 2014

Reports of helicopter spraying people on the Santiam River, Oregon

Floaters on the Santiam River said this craft sprayed something as it few over them, roughly 1/3 of the way between Green's Bridge and Jefferson.
Photo:  Stayton Mail | Anna Pearson

Warm temperatures over the weekend brought more floaters to the Santiam River near Jefferson this weekend, and it also brought more reports about a helicopter spraying people on the river.

Aviation officials have said they've received a number of calls in the past from the same general area complaining about a helicopter flying overhead and harassing people. More such calls emerged over the weekend.

Anna Pearson of Jefferson echoed what Aoife Armstrong told the Statesman Journal a couple of weeks ago.

"The whole thing lasted maybe about 20 seconds," Pearson said, describing a helicopter approaching from the west. "It didn't spray anything at all until it was over the river; and not then until it was over (a group of people). Then it made one long spray and took off in the other direction."

Pearson said there were about 40 people in the area of the river where the craft sprayed. She estimated that they were about 1/3 of the way from where they embarked on the river at Green's Bridge and Jefferson.

She also snapped a photo and shared it with her brother, Mark Tiersma, who works with the aviation outfit Columbia Helicopters of Bend. He speculated that the craft may have been a gyrocopter, rather than a helicopter.

Pearson said she contacted the Federal Aviation Administration, which was also very interested in the photos and her story.

Another SJ reader who said his name was "Jared" shared a similar report Sunday via text messages.

"I just want to let you know that today we went floating down the Santiam River and noticed a white helicopter dropping a dusty substance from the belly of the chopper," he said. "It can only fit one person; didn't notice any identification, but if I knew this was happening I would have recorded it with my phone.

"I do believe someone is trying to be malicious with these actions; why else would you take such a drastic chance poisoning people to care for your crop unless you were bitter about some sort of environmental vendetta towards floaters?"

Officials at the FAA and local airports have recommended that witnesses to get photos, video or even an identification tail number on the craft.

To report aviation issues, including low-flying aircraft or harassment, contact the Federal Aviation Administration's Flight Standards District Office: (503) 615-3200, (800) 847-3806 or online via


North Fork residents riled by surge in helicopter traffic, seek Federal Aviation Administration help

Helicopters sit on the tarmac at East Hampton Town Airport in Wainscott, Aug. 6, 2014. 
(Credit: Gordon M. Grant)

North Fork residents say their peace and quiet is under siege from a 40 percent surge in the number of Hamptons-bound helicopters and they are demanding that the FAA do something about it.

Local officials want the Federal Aviation Administration to force flight paths around Orient Point. Federal legislators said they have repeatedly pushed the FAA to require a helicopter route that goes around the North Fork, and will continue to do so.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell and Suffolk Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) will hold a public meeting Monday to discuss the issue with a team from the FAA and representatives for U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Tim Bishop.

"It's a huge problem and it's gotten much worse this year," Russell said.

Krupski, who's also a farmer in Cutchogue, said he's out in the fields early in the mornings and in the evenings. Helicopters are consistently flying low.

"These people flying the helicopters have no regard for our quality of life," he said. "There's an element of sightseeing going on."

While there are still some complaints about private jets using East Hampton Airport, a hub for the wealthy also traveling by helicopter, plane traffic at the airport has dropped 13 percent over last year. Helicopter traffic, meanwhile, has jumped 40 percent, airport officials said.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters said four or five staff members will attend Monday's meeting, but declined to comment further.

Jeffrey Smith, vice president of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, said while helicopter traffic is up, pilots overwhelmingly comply with both FAA mandates and voluntary noise-abatement restrictions near the East Hampton Airport.

"Our whole industry rides on the balance of being a good neighbor," he said.

Being forced to go around Orient would add another 60 miles to a trip. "It would put an unbelievable burden on our small operators," he said.

The increase in helicopter traffic this year he attributed to mobile phone apps, some of which allow customers to find flights from Manhattan to East Hampton, and companies crowdsourcing helicopter trips so passengers share the $3,700 average cost of a one-way trip.

"It's opening up travel to those who couldn't travel this way before," he said.

Irene Sawastynowicz, 80, of Cutchogue, said she started to notice more helicopters this past weekend.

"It feels like is ready to come down!" said the lifelong resident.

In June, the FAA extended for two years a flight path that sends most pilots along the North Shore 2,500 feet in the air and a mile out over Long Island Sound. That path, called the North Shore Helicopter Route, was pushed for by federally elected officials, including Schumer (D-N.Y.), and has been celebrated by residents in western Suffolk as relief from their own noise woes.

But residents on the North Fork say that it has funneled most of the traffic cutting to and from East Hampton over their houses. Russell criticized the delegation for not pushing harder to require the helicopters to fly around Orient Point.

"They ignored the interests of the East End in exchange for the more populated populations up west," he said. In an interview Sunday, Bishop (D-Southampton) said the delegation has repeatedly pushed the FAA to require a helicopter route around the North Fork.

"I think the situation for the North Fork borders on the intolerable," he said. He has also asked the FAA to create a formal route along the South Shore as well.

"We're trying to get this resolved," he said. "We've made some progress in mitigating the problem, but it's exacerbated this year by a dramatic increase in volume." He noted that this is the first regulation of helicopter routes that the FAA has done.

Schumer, in a statement, said he continues to work with Bishop for an "all-water-route around Orient Point." Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), in a statement, said she would also continue trying to get the FAA to keep helicopters over the water.

It's not only Southold residents who have complained about the increased airport traffic. Residents of Southampton and East Hampton have also increased complaints over traffic coming from the airport. Another meeting in Bridgehampton is scheduled for Tuesday night.

East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Sunday, "We're aware this continues to be a problem in East Hampton and other communities."

He said the town, which owns and operates the airport, is conducting a noise study to be completed this fall.

"We're laying the groundwork for analyzing the data that may support restrictions," he said. "But until such time as the analysis is done, I can't comment on what that might be."

Story and Comments:

National Transportation Safety Board Cites Crew, Controller in Deadly Crash: Beechcraft 1900C-1, ACE Air Cargo, N116AX, accident occurred March 08, 2013 in Aleknagik, Alaska

Anchorage -  Communication problems were at the heart of a March 2013 cargo plane crash near Dillingham that left two people who flew into a mountain dead, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

In a report released Monday on the probable cause of the March 8, 2013 ACE Air Cargo crash in poor weather that killed pilot Jeff Day, 38, and first officer Neil Jensen, 21, the NTSB cites “the flight crew's failure to maintain terrain clearance, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain in instrument meteorological conditions.”

A variety of factors are listed as contributing to the Beech 1900C’s crash in the Muklung Hills, including “the flight crew's failure to correctly read back and interpret clearance altitudes issued by the air traffic controller,” as well as “the air traffic controller's issuance of an ambiguous clearance to the flight crew, which resulted in the airplane's premature descent.”

Day and Jensen, both Anchorage residents, took off from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport at about 5:45 a.m., stopping in King Salmon before continuing to Dillingham. They called the FAA’s Air Route Traffic Control Center in Anchorage at 7:57 a.m. to say they had reached the local airport’s holding pattern.

A Federal Aviation Administration area navigation, or RNAV, chart for landing in Dillingham under instrument flight rules indicates the minimum altitudes planes should maintain at various points of their approach. The chart shows that as Day and Jensen’s flight came in from the southeast toward ZEDAG, the point at which planes enter the holding pattern to land in Dillingham, it should have been at an altitude of at least 5,300 feet, with only a slight reduction in that minimum within the pattern after arriving.

“One of three peaks in the Muklung Hills with an elevation of 2,550 feet is located about 6 miles north-northwest of ZEDAG,” NTSB officials wrote. “The published minimum safe altitude while flying in the holding pattern is 4,300 feet (above mean sea level).”

An NTSB log of transmissions shortly after between the ARTCC and the ACE Air Cargo flight, with the call sign Ace Air 51 or AER51, lists the plane at an altitude below those approved minimums. The controller, calling the Dillingham Flight Services Station for an update on runway conditions, apparently doesn’t notice:

AER51: We'll stay with you. Cleared to ZEDAG transition for RNAV one nine approach into Dillingham. Maintain [ARTCC controller dialing the DLG FSS] two thousand (feet) until a published segment of the approach Ace Air fifty one.
ARTCC: Is Ace Air fifty one Beech nineteen hundred Dillingham one seven two zero RNAV one nine.
AER51: Anchorage Center Ace Air fifty one [we're] approaching ZEDAG we'd like to hold waiting for more information if possible.
ARTCC: Ace Air fifty one say again?
AER51: Ace Air fifty one requesting hold at ZEDAG for runway conditions.
ARTCC: Ace Air fifty one hold north of ZEDAG as published expect further clearance one eight zero zero upon your request.
AER51: Hold north of ZEDAG expect further clearance one eight zero zero.

Just after receiving a runway update from Dillingham, the controller relayed it to Day and Jensen at 8:09 a.m. -- but he never heard from them again. Heavy snow and wind kept searchers from reaching the crash site until the next day, when Alaska Air National Guard chopper arrived and confirmed that both men were dead.

NTSB investigators found that the plane had crashed at an elevation of about 2,000 feet, leaving an uphill fan of debris over several hundred feet from its point of contact. The crash destroyed three cockpit computers in the Beech, precluding any attempt to determine whether terrain warnings from them had been suppressed; while ACE Air Cargo had been installing cockpit video and flight recorders fleetwide after two people died in a 2010 crash near Sand Point, the wrecked aircraft didn’t yet have them.

“The first structural piece was located about 400 feet from the initial impact point,” NTSB officials wrote. “Large sections of fuselage and expelled cargo were located about 525 feet from the initial impact point. The fuselage and cockpit were found separated into three large pieces.”

When NTSB investigators spoke with the controller in the crash, he told them he hadn’t been fully aware of Day and Jensen’s altitude during their final minutes of flight.

“During postaccident interviews, the controller who handled the flight stated that he did not expect the airplane to descend below 5,400 feet and that he did not notice when it did so,” NTSB officials wrote. “He stated that he did not notice the airplane's actual altitude when the pilot requested holding at ZEDAG. He stated that, when he cleared the pilot to hold at ZEDAG ‘as published,’ he expected the pilot to climb the airplane to 4,300 feet (above mean sea level) as shown in the profile view of the approach procedure.”

Recorded data at the center indicated that the system had attempted to warn the controller about the imminent crash.

“Air traffic control (ATC) recorded automation data showed that the airplane's trajectory generated aural and visual minimum safe altitude warnings (MSAW) on the controller's radar display, which included a 1-second aural alarm at 0809:16 and a flashing ‘MSAW’ indication in the airplane's data block that continued from 0809:16 until the end of the flight,” NTSB officials wrote. “The controller said that he was not consciously aware of any such warnings from his display. The controller did not issue any terrain conflict alerts or climb instructions to the flight crew.”

While the NTSB report quotes FAA regulations calling for important numbers like altitude restrictions to be read back in communications between pilots and controllers, it quotes more extensively from those governing a pilot’s autonomy in flight – including one which states that “The pilot-in-command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.”

“‘If ATC issues a clearance that would cause a pilot to deviate from a rule or regulation, or in the pilot's opinion, would place the aircraft in jeopardy, IT IS THE PILOT'S RESPONSIBILITY TO REQUEST AN AMENDED CLEARANCE,’” NTSB officials quoted. “‘Similarly, if a pilot prefers to follow a different course of action…THE PILOT IS EXPECTED TO INFORM ATC ACCORDINGLY [capitalization emphasis in original document].’”

Clint Johnson, the NTSB’s chief investigator in Alaska, says the report indicates shared responsibility for the crash both in the air and on the ground.

“There’s culpability on both sides,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of checks and balances and safety initiatives that are in play, but for whatever reason they were all ignored.”

Johnson says much about the crash that could be known never will be, due to the absence of voice or data recorders -- cheap technology that wasn’t required aboard the ACE flight.

“One of the most frustrating things is that we don’t know what was going on in that cockpit,” Johnson said.

The NTSB report also found that Day and Jensen violated company regulations governing descent approaches.

- Source:

NTSB Identification: ANC13FA030 
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Friday, March 08, 2013 in Aleknagik, AK
Probable Cause Approval Date: 08/11/2014
Aircraft: BEECH 1900C, registration: N116AX
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The airplane was operating in instrument meteorological conditions and, as it approached the destination airport, the pilot requested the RNAV/GPS runway 19 approach and asked for routing directly to ZEDAG, the initial approach fix (IAF). At the time of the pilot's request, the airplane was about 30 miles southeast of the IAF at an altitude of about 5,900 feet mean sea level (msl). The air traffic controller cleared the airplane to fly directly to the IAF followed by the ZEDAG transition and the RNAV/GPS runway 19 approach, stating, "maintain at or above 2,000" feet until established on a published segment of the approach. The flight crewmembers repeated the clearance back to the controller as "maintain 2,000" feet until established, and they began descending the airplane toward the IAF. About 6 minutes later, the pilot requested to enter the holding pattern while they checked on runway conditions on another radio frequency, and the controller cleared them to hold "as published." At the time of the pilot's request, the airplane was at an altitude of about 2,200 feet msl.

As depicted on the published instrument approach procedure, the terminal arrival area (TAA) minimum altitude when approaching the IAF from the southeast (the direction from which the accident flight approached) is 5,400 feet msl, and the published holding pattern at the IAF is 4,300 feet msl due to rising terrain in the area.Therefore, the flight crewmember's acceptance of what they believed to be a clearance to 2,000 feet, their descent to that altitude, and their initiation of a hold at that altitude indicates a lack of awareness of the information contained on the published procedure. Such a lack of awareness is inconsistent with pilot-in-command responsibilities and company procedures that require an instrument approach briefing during the descent and approach phases of flight. If the flight crewmembers had reviewed the published approach procedure and briefed it per the company's descent and approach checklist, they should have noticed that the minimum safe altitude in the TAA southeast of the IAF was 5,400 feet msl and that the minimum altitude for the hold was 4,300 feet msl. Examination of the wreckage and debris path evidence is consistent with the airplane having collided with rising terrain at 2,000 feet msl while flying in a wings-level attitude on the outbound leg of the holding pattern, which the flight crew should have flown at 4,300 feet msl.

However, the air traffic controller did not adhere to guidance contained in Federal Aviation Administration Order 7110.65, and his approach clearance to "maintain at or above 2,000 feet" msl until established on a published segment of the approach was ambiguous. The controller's approach clearance should have instructed the pilot to "proceed direct to ZEDAG, enter the TAA at or above 5,400 feet, cleared RNAV runway 19 approach." Instead, he instructed the pilot without specifying the segment of the approach that should be flown at 2,000 feet. Further, the controller did not notice the pilot's incorrect readback of the clearance in which he indicated that he intended to "maintain 2,000 feet" until established on the approach. Further, he did not appropriately monitor the flight's progress and intervene when the airplane descended to 2,000 feet msl. As a result, the airplane was permitted to descend below the minimum instrument altitudes applicable to the route of flight and enter the holding pattern well below the published minimum holding altitude.

Air traffic control (ATC) recorded automation data showed that the airplane's trajectory generated aural and visual minimum safe altitude warnings on the controller's radar display. However, the controller did not issue any terrain warnings or climb instructions to the flight crew. The controller said that he was not consciously aware of any such warnings from his display. These automated warnings should have been sufficient to prompt the controller to evaluate the airplane's position and altitude, provide a safety alert to the pilot in a timely manner, and instruct the pilot to climb to a safe altitude; it could not be determined why the controller was unaware of the warnings. The airplane was equipped with three pieces of navigation equipment that should have provided visual and aural terrain warnings to the flight crewmembers if they had not inhibited the function and if the units were operating properly. Damage precluded testing the equipment or determining the preaccident configuration of the units; however, the flight crew reported no equipment anomalies predeparture.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The flight crew's failure to maintain terrain clearance, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain in instrument meteorological conditions. Contributing to the accident were the flight crew's failure to correctly read back and interpret clearance altitudes issued by the air traffic controller, their failure to adhere to minimum altitudes depicted on the published instrument approach chart, and their failure to adhere to company checklists.

Also contributing to the accident were the air traffic controller's issuance of an ambiguous clearance to the flight crew, which resulted in the airplane's premature descent, his failure to address the pilot's incorrect read back of the assigned clearance altitudes, and his failure to monitor the flight and address the altitude violations and issue terrain-based safety alerts.

Neil Jensen 
Anchorage resident Neil Torvald Jensen died March 8, 2013, in a plane crash near Dillingham. A service will be held at St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton Catholic Church at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 13. Neil was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but lived in Anchorage since the age of two years. He attended his neighborhood public schools and graduated from Robert Service High School in 2009. He enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and in three years received a BSc in Aeronautical Science, with honors. Last November he was hired for a First Officer position by Ace Air Cargo, piloting Beechcraft 1900s. The work was challenging, but he was fulfilled working alongside fellow pilots. Recreational time was spent skiing, hiking, and mountain biking. Close friendships were maintained with friends from college. Neil was unusually attentive to his extended family, his younger brother, and his older sister. His parents could not have been more pleased with Neil's integrity, compassion, dedication, creativity, and humor.

Jeffrey Gordon Day
 (1974 - 2013) 

Anchorage resident Jeffrey Gordon Day left our lives all too soon when his plane went down outside of Dillingham, Alaska on March 8, 2013. Jeff led his life with passion as a pilot, gifted musician, skilled carpenter, and outdoor enthusiast. But, most importantly, he was a loving husband, dedicated father, caring son and brother, and dear friend to many.

Jeff was born June 4, 1974 in Cincinnati, OH to Stan and Sandra Day, and as the younger brother of Debbie Day. He received his B.A. in Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Business and English at Washington University in St Louis. Jeff quickly became an avid traveler and explorer. He spent summers working in Denali National Park, participated in a NOLS course in Chile and Argentina, lived in Antarctica, and kayaked the length of the Inside Passage. Eventually, he settled in Juneau, where he was often found playing guitar, fiddle, or banjo within the music community. He met his wife Kelly in Juneau, and they were married on the edge of the water on a rare bluebird Juneau summer day. They eventually relocated to Anchorage and had two beautiful children, Talia and Zach, with whom Jeff was often found sharing his passions: taking them skiing, playing them music, and camping around the state. It was with his family, that Jeff seemed to shine the brightest.

In Anchorage, Jeff discovered a new passion for aviation. He often expressed his love of getting above the clouds and into the sun, flying about the Alaskan wilderness. He lost his life doing something he loved deeply.

Jeff will be remembered as a talented man with abundant energy, full of life, and with a gentle soul. He was loved and will be missed by many, but Jeff's light will continue to shine brightly in all of us.



Drug Defendants Escape Charges On Technicality: Litchfield Municipal Airport (3LF), Illinois

Two men arrested last July after landing a plane in Litchfield with an alleged 64 pounds of marijuana on board have walked away from felony drug charges here on a legal technicality.

Charges of possession of cannabis over 5000 grams, a Class 1 felony, were dropped against Jonathan Eymann, 33, of Goleta, CA, and Gary Lyons, 53, of Ventura, CA.

After a hearing on March 24, an order was issued on June 16 to suppress all evidence in the case because certification had lapsed on the police dog that alerted on the alleged drugs.  Charges were dropped on July 2.

"The dog was trained.  They just didn't have the certificate in hand," according to Montgomery County State's Attorney Chris Matoush.

According to Litchfield Police Department Chief Lee Jarman, police dogs had previously been certified by their trainers, but a law changed last year requiring the handler to obtain the necessary paperwork.

The plane was the second in four months last year to be seized in Litchfield after the federal Department of Homeland Security alerted local authorities of a possible cross-country drug run.  The plane touched down at Litchfield Municipal Airport just before midnight on Saturday, July 20, 2013, and Eymann and Lyons were stopped in an airport courtesy car in route to a local hotel.

The police dog allegedly alerted on a small amount of marijuana in luggage belonging to Eymann and on several thousand dollars in cash located on Lyons, the plane's pilot.  Back at the airport, the dog again alerted on the 1979 Cessna 182 plane, where police said they found two large suitcases and a small backpack with just over 64 pounds of marijuana vacuum sealed in one-pound bags as well as a loaded firearm.

After the arrests Eymann and Lyons were both transported to Springfield to be charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office, but on July 22, 2013, were brought back to Montgomery County to be charged under state statute where sentencing guidelines are more stringent.

Sharon Paul, speaking for the US Attorney's Office, could not confirm or deny whether federal charges will be filed.

Four months before Eymann and Lyons were arrested, Litchfield seized a plane and an alleged 39 pounds of marijuana on March 9, 2013, after a similar tip from the Department of Homeland Security.  Those suspects fled the scene but police later arrested Phillip Russell, 56, and his son, Adam Russell, 29, both of Edinboro, PA, on warrants.

Both have pending Class 1 felony charges in Montgomery County of possession of cannabis over 5000 grams and both have pre-trial hearings set for 10 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 19.

- Source: 


Litchfield Police Seize Airplane And Drugs
Sixty-four pounds of marijuana was seized at Litchfield Municipal Airport in a joint effort by the Litchfield Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

In the evening hours of Saturday, July 20, the Litchfield Police Department was contacted by Homeland Security and was advised that a small plane was in route to Litchfield as part of a cross-country trek that was suspected to be a drug run.

The plane was scheduled to stop at the Litchfield Municipal Airport around midnight for fuel and the occupants may have planned to stay overnight in a local hotel.

DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and several Litchfield PD officers watched for the plane to land shortly after midnight and observed two occupants park the plane, unload small bags into the airport courtesy car and leave the airport property in route to a local hotel.

The vehicle was stopped by DHS and LPD personnel before the occupants could enter the hotel, with a small amount of marijuana detected by the Litchfield Police Department K-9 "Arie"in the luggage belonging to Jonathan Eymann, 32, of Goleta, CA.

The department's K-9 also alerted on several thousand dollars in cash located on the pilot of the plane, Gary Lyons, 52, of Ventura, CA.

With the two individuals in investigative detention, all personnel returned to the airport, where Arie and his handler, Officer Shane Grammer, conducted a sniff of the secured plane.

Arie alerted on the plane as well and upon entry, two large suitcases and one small backpack were located containing just over 64 pounds of vacuum sealed marijuana in one pound bags, ready for sale. A loaded firearm was also located in the airplane, a 1979 Cessna 182 single engine prop plane.

Further investigation revealed that this was the third trip to Litchfield this pair had made, each time moving marijuana to a customer in the Pittsburgh, PA metro area.

Both subjects were taken into federal custody and transported to Sangamon County to be charged there by the United States Attorney's Office. Paperwork was immediately initiated to seize the plane, the weapon and the cash under the federal asset forfeiture law.

On Monday, July 22, the decision was made to transfer Eymann and Lyons back to Montgomery County and to charge them under the state statute, as the state sentencing guidelines are more stringent for the offenses.

Both subjects were booked in at the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department jail late Monday after-noon and were formally charged with possession of more than 5,000 grams of cannabis, a class one felony, on Tuesday, July 23, by State's Attorney Chris Matoush.

Bond was set at $300,000 for both men. Eymann will be in court on Friday, July 26, at 10 a.m. for a public defender status hearing, while Lyons will appear in court on Aug. 6, at 10 a.m., with counsel. Judge Kelly Long will be presiding over both hearings.

The Litchfield Police Department will now pursue the assets seized during the arrest, including the plane, which will be sold at auction once forfeiture is completed.

The case remains open and in joint cooperation between the Litchfield Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

This is the second large marijuana seizure the Litchfield Police Department has assisted with at the local airport, and the second plane seized in the last six months.

On March 9, $156,000 worth of marijuana was seized, along with  the airplane it was found on, during another drug bust at the airport, which also began with a tip from the Department of Homeland Security.

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Pilot denied jobless benefits: Pilatus PC-12/45, SeaPort Airlines, N58VS, accident occurred February 14, 2014 at Salina Regional Airport (KSLN), Kansas


Is a pilot who cost his employer $1.2 million by crash-landing a commuter plane without first deploying the landing gear deserving of unemployment benefits?

One Iowa judge says yes, but the state’s Employment Appeal Board says no.

Donald G. Scarsella “knew what to do, was trained on what to do, was able to do it, was required by policy and safety to do it every time, and still did not do it,” the board ruled last week.

“This is more than merely making some mistakes.”

On Feb. 14, Scarsella, 49, was working as the first officer — or second in command — of a nine-seat, single-engine turboprop that was flying in mild weather from Kansas City, Mo., to Salina, Kan., according to state records.

Before the plane landed at Salina Regional Airport, Scarsella and his fellow pilot, who is not identified in the records, failed to deploy their landing gear.

The $2.2 million Pilatus PC-12 plane essentially crash-landed, skidding to a stop on its belly.

Neither pilot was injured, but both were immediately fired by SeaPort Airlines.

The crash landing caused $1.2 million in damage to the plane, the airline said.

Scarsella, who now resides in Livonia, Mich., filed for unemployment benefits with Iowa Workforce Development. A fact-finder at the agency initially awarded him benefits, but SeaPort challenged that decision, which led to a formal hearing in June.

Administrative Law Judge Susan Ackerman heard testimony in the case and ultimately ruled in Scarsella’s favor, noting that a single act of negligence is not enough to disqualify a person from receiving unemployment benefits unless there is a deliberate disregard for the employer’s interests.

“Although (Scarsella’s) negligence cost the employer $1.2 million, there was no wrongful intent on his part or a deliberate disregard of the employer’s interests,” she ruled.

SeaPort appealed that ruling to the three-member Employment Appeal Board of Iowa, which last week ruled in favor of the airline, with one member dissenting.

Board members Kim Schmett and Ashley Koopmans ruled that while Scarsella “may not have actually wanted to endanger the public,” he did disregard the mandatory steps required to safely and competently fly an airplane.

“The situation is no different from a person who drives through red lights because that person is in a hurry,” the two wrote. “The driver surely does not intend the serious injury that may result from the decision to run the lights — but they do make a choice to run the lights.”

The two board members noted that while the flight’s pilot was responsible for completing the checklist of items for a landing, Scarsella was responsible for verifying that each of the steps had been completed.

Scarsella “absolutely knew how important the checklist procedures were,” the two board members ruled. “He is not incapable of performing those procedures. He is a licensed pilot and surely cannot credibly claim he is incapable of following a checklist. So inability or incapacity does not explain his conduct.

“He wasn’t unaware that the plane was coming in for a landing. He didn’t think the checklist procedures were optional. He just did not carry out his duties as required. This is beyond negligence and is an intentional disregard of the employer’s interests.”

The third member of the board, Cloyd Robinson, dissented, stating only that he would have affirmed Ackerman’s decision in its entirety.

Scarsella declined to comment on the matter when contacted by The Des Moines Register.

- Source:

Joe Frank was smiling as he tossed good-natured barbs at SeaPort Airlines on Friday afternoon at the M.J. Kennedy Air Terminal.

A gear-up landing of a SeaPort Airlines Pilatus PC-12 airplane Friday morning delayed a Valentine's Day flight to Memphis, Tenn., for Frank and his wife, Peggy.

Despite the wait of several hours, Joe Frank, the co-owner of Ferco Rental, a construction and big equipment rental business in Salina, was impressed with SeaPort's and the Salina Airport Authority's handling of a stressful situation.

A pilot and co-pilot were alone in the 9-passenger aircraft that skidded to a stop at 10:30 a.m. on the Salina Regional Airport runway without its landing gear deployed.

"We were supposed to be in Memphis an hour ago. It is unfortunate," Frank said at 3:30 p.m. in the airport lobby, sitting with his wife and seven other passengers.

"SeaPort and the airport authority were amicable in taking care of the situation," he said.

The couple have been flying out of Salina for years.

The passengers boarded a backup aircraft at 4 p.m. and were on their way.

Being investigated

What caused the plane to skid to a stop on its belly is under investigation. The landing also caused the airport's primary runway to close. Airport officials said a crane arrived about 6 p.m. to remove the aircraft, and the runway was reopened by 8 p.m.

Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board personnel were at the airport Friday looking into what occurred.

"We're cooperating fully," said Rob McKinney, president and CEO of the Portland, Ore., airline that provides service at the Salina airport.

"The thing we're most grateful for is there was no injury or loss of life," he said.

Why the landing gear didn't come down won't be known for days.

"Whether nobody made that happen or there was something faulty, we don't know," said Melissa McCoy, an airport authority spokeswoman.

McKinney said there is a chance that SeaPort will have some "preliminary answers" to questions by early next week.

Like it was practiced

The good side of the experience was the emergency response that was tested "for real" on Friday, McCoy said. Aircraft Rescue Firefighting staff, Salina firefighters and Salina paramedics practiced such a response in training a few months ago.

"It all came together beautifully. Everybody responded exactly how they should have," she said.

'We'll make it right'

SeaPort gave passengers vouchers for a future flight, McCoy said.

The airline was planning ways to thank passengers for their patience, McKinney said. "We'll definitely make it right."

Members-Only Surf Air to Buy More Planes: Luxury Carrier Arranges $65 Million Pact to Finance Growth

The Wall Street Journal
By Susan Carey

Aug. 11, 2014 12:09 a.m. ET

Membership at Surf Air has more than tripled to 900 this year. Pictured, one of its Pilatus planes. 
Surf Air

Surf Air, a members-only luxury airline in California, has been making headway with its unusual business model: unlimited flying on its scheduled, in-state flights for a monthly fee. Now, the startup intends to significantly expand with firm orders for 15 new planes financed by a $65 million debt facility arranged almost by accident.

The Santa Monica company, which has raised $17 million in seed capital from a number of venture-capital firms and individual investors, took wing in June 2013, flying three used Swiss-built Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. planes, single-engine turboprops that seat seven passengers, from small airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Truckee, Calif. The number of members has grown to more than 900 from 250 this year, with another 350 on the waiting list, said Jeff Potter, the chief executive. Founding members enrolled for $1,350 a month; the fee will rise to $1,750 on Sept. 1.

To meet the demand, Surf Air has ordered 15 new Pilatus PC-12 NG aircraft and taken options on 50 more. The planes have a list price of $4.6 million, according to the manufacturer, and with eight passengers and two pilots, they can travel 800 nautical miles without refueling. Fitted out in high style with interiors designed by BMW, BMW.XE +2.59% the planes are pressurized, can cruise at 30,000 feet and even have an enclosed lavatory, although Surf Air warns that it's best used only in emergencies.

Mr. Potter, former CEO of discounter Frontier Airlines and membership-only vacation-destination Exclusive Resorts, was recruited early this year to work out the early kinks, which are manifold for a startup in this industry. He said demand so far shows that growth opportunities await on routes to other California cities, including Carlsbad, Sacramento, Palm Springs, Monterey, Oakland, San Jose and Orange County.

Once Surf Air wins regulatory approval to fly on interstate routes, Mr. Potter said, it may expand to another region in the U.S. Possibilities include Texas, Florida and the Northeast. The company also offers "friends and family" and corporate plans.

In all cases, Surf Air will serve small, private airports, sparing members the hassles of driving to, parking at and enduring security lines at large airports. Surf Air's Los Angeles flights land at Hawthorne Municipal Airport and its San Francisco flights at San Carlos Airport.

The company faces plenty of competition. Commercial airlines have more frequent, often cheaper flights, but can't match Surf Air's use of small, luxurious airports, concierge check-in and lack of security screening. Charter operators and fractional programs offer on-demand, private travel but at much higher prices.

PlaneSense Inc., a Portsmouth, N.H., fractional program that also operates the Pilatus PC-12, charges its clients $324,000 for a 1/16th share of a plane, good for 50 or 70 hours of use per year, along with a monthly management fee of $4,869 and an hourly flight charge of $745.

Early Surf Air members are enthusiastic. Mark Alioto, CEO of a software company, said he makes frequent trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles. "I hated the airline experience so much that I drove once a week," he said. "I put 50,000 miles on the car in a year." When he read about Surf Air's startup plans, he put himself on the waiting list three different times to make sure he was accepted.

"It's not cheap, but it's not out-of-this-world expensive," Mr. Alioto said. "The first couple of times, it was disorienting because it was so easy. " And he's not put off by flying with strangers. "The people you meet on the flights are so interesting," he said. "It feels like a flying TED talk."

A few months ago, the company started working to raise debt financing to pay for new planes. By happenstance, White Oak Global Advisors LLC founder Andre Hakkak was trying to charter a plane for an annual ski trip with friends this winter. He called Surf Air and "it spiked my curiosity that there were no planes available for me," he said. He got hold of Sudhin Shahani, the chairman, and "we started yakking away" about the company's business plan.

Less than two months later, White Oak, a private debt firm in San Francisco, provided the $65 million loan secured by the new aircraft, covering the bulk of the financing for the 15 firm orders. "It wasn't like we were the only guys at the table," Mr. Hakkak said. "We were late to the party, so we moved fast." He said he still hasn't found a charter plane for his ski trip.