Friday, October 23, 2015

I-Team: Plane buzzes low over Ravenel Bridge, Mount Pleasant, Charleston County, South Carolina

While sitting in traffic, a News 2 viewer sent the I-Team video of a plane flying low over the Ravenel Bridge. The video shows a small plane flying uncomfortably low over the Ravenel Bridge several times. The driver wanted to know what the pilot was doing and if it was safe to be that close to heavy evening traffic.

“I personally witnessed the aircraft make 5 passes over the bridge, once splitting the towers of the bridge,” Justin Bussjager wrote News 2.

I-Team reporter, Rebecca Collett, called to FAA to get answers.

A spokesperson said the pilot has a special permit to fly that low. Generally, in congested areas, planes must fly at least 1,000 feet above the tallest point. In the case of agricultural operations, pilots can get special permits to fly lower.

A spokesman at Charleston County told News 2 the contracted pilot was spraying for mosquitoes in the area Thursday evening.

The pilots who conduct the aerial spraying must have special training, and there are additional inspections required on the planes.

- Source:

May 2013:  Mosquito pilot cleared after inquiry into Ravenel Bridge scare | Charleston, SC | News, Weather, Sports 

A pilot spraying for mosquitoes near the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge has been cleared of any wrongdoing after drivers called 911 saying they feared his aircraft might hit the span. 

The Federal Aviation Administration said it reviewed the flight of pilot Tommy Phillips of Williamsburg Air Service and determined there was no evidence that aviation regulations were violated.

As a result of its inquiry, the FAA said changes were made to the route flown for the mosquito-spraying to help alleviate public concerns. The new route has been flown once without public complaint, the agency said in an email.

When contacted by phone Monday, Phillips said he wasn't doing anything wrong during the flight so there was no need to make changes. The owner of Williamsburg Air, Guy McClary, said the FAA told the company to do the “neighborly thing” when it sprayed.

“In other words, do the best you can,” McClary said.

He said the company was flying legally April 17 when it was spraying for mosquitoes on Drum Island next to the bridge.

Cathy Critser of Summerville was among those who dialed 911 when she saw the plane and its direction of travel.

“I think it caught a lot of people off guard,” she said.

Critser said the plane's proximity to the bridge made her nervous because the Boston bombings happened two days before. She said drivers were stopping on the bridge because of the aircraft.

She suggested that officials place signs on the bridge to let people know when mosquito spraying is happening.

Critser said she trusts the FAA, but the results of its inquiry don't change how she felt at the time of the incident. Phillips called Critser to say he was very sorry for scaring her, she said.

Gary Paddock of Mount Pleasant said he also called 911 on April 17 because of the plane's proximity to the bridge.

“If the result is that the sprayer will fly a different and safer route, then I think that we got done what was needed,” he said.

Williamsburg Air was conducting a standard flight near the bridge for the Charleston County Mosquito Control Division, the county said at the time of the incident. The pilot was operating within established guidelines that enable the plane to fly low to treat mosquito larvae, the county said.

April 2013:  Pilot says he followed protocol during mosquito spray 

MOUNT PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) -  A pilot is saying he followed all safety protocols as he flew over the Arthur Ravenel Bridge during a mosquito control operation on Wednesday.

Tommy Phillips says he has been hired by Charleston County Government to spray the area around Drum Island for the past seven years.

"It wasn't very low to me and it wasn't very close and there wasn't any danger," he says.  "I'd be an idiot to travel at 150 miles per hour and take chances."

Several people reported seeing the plane and calling emergency officials due to the proximity of the craft to the bridge.

"We have a crazy plane flying over the Ravenel Bridge," a woman can be heard telling a 911 dispatcher."I don't know anything about planes, but I'm not kidding you when I say he barely missed part of the bridge."

Med student Garrick Klaybor was running over the around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday when he also spotted the plane flying closely over the bridge.

"It surprised me and it was a little exhilarating," said Klaybor who reported that the plane flew over the bridge at least five times before heading towards Sullivan's Island. "It was kind of cool to see, but a little too close for comfort."

Phillips says he stays at least 100 feet above ground during the aerial spraying.

"I want people to know we take them into consideration," he says.  "We're there to prevent mosquitoes and West Nile virus."

The Federal Aviation Administration announced it would investigate the incident, despite Charleston County Government officials saying that the pilot was following normal protocol within FAA safety guidelines, which enables crafts to fly low to treat mosquito larvae.  Phillips says he has been cleared by the FAA.

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