Sunday, October 04, 2015

Rocky Mountain National Park seeks info on low-flying aircraft

ESTES PARK, COLORADO — Rocky Mountain National Park officials are seeking information about an ultralight aircraft flew low in the area of Moraine Park at around 5:30 p.m. Friday, September 25.

Park rangers are seeking information pertaining to the incident, park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said in a press release. "They are interested in speaking with witnesses or anyone who might have photographs or videos of the aircraft," she said.

Anyone with information related to the incident is asked to call Rocky Mountain National Park's Communications Center at 970-586-1204.


Westmoreland County subsidy that helps finance Spirit Airlines draws scrutiny

Latrobe airlines services ramp crew members service a Spirit Airlines aircraft on Friday, October 2, 2015, at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity.

Westmoreland County officials say they'll continue an unorthodox taxpayer-funded subsidy that attracted Spirit Airlines to Arnold Palmer Regional Airport but drew the attention of federal officials.

Citing the economic benefits of an ultra-low-cost carrier in town, the county spends about $700,000 annually to employ ticket agents and ground operators for Spirit. The program, called Latrobe Airline Services, supports about 40 authority employees a year. The money is part of $2 million to $2.7 million in annual funding the county pays to the Westmoreland County Airport Authority for general operations and debt service.

Spirit, a company valued at $3.6 billion that built its brand on cheap nonstop flights, serves more than 50 airports in the United States and internationally. In Westmoreland County, commissioners said they are eager to provide the appropriation and enable Spirit's presence to grow.

“It's money we put in to make the operation happen so that we could reap the impact,” said Commissioner Chuck Anderson. “It's part of the cost of doing business.”

The county-to-authority money transfer caught the eye of the Federal Aviation Administration at least as early as 2013. In February 2014, the safety and standards branch requested information to determine “if the rates and charges at the airport are allocated in an unjustly discriminatory manner,” or were subsidizing the costs of an air carrier.

FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said the agency's review of the program is continuing.

Spirit began serving the Latrobe airport in February 2011. The year before, the airport had 6,000 commercial passengers.

“We're about to have balloons go up for the millionth passenger going through there,” Anderson said. “The impact is huge.”

This year, the airport has counted more than 250,000 passengers on Spirit flights to five destinations, although the airline will suspend nonstop flights to Chicago and Las Vegas in November because of low passenger traffic. Other destinations include Orlando, Myrtle Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

PennDOT gauged the airport's economic impact at $158 million, according to the airport's annual report, up from $98 million in 2011.

Ken Button, a public policy professor at George Mason University who studies aviation, said the lines are fuzzy regarding public support to airlines, but smaller airports are more likely to use local funding to lure carriers. The biggest concern, he said, is engendering unfair competition if nearby airports must one-up each other's offers.

“These airports are desperate to have it,” Button said. “This doesn't necessarily help other airports nearby.”

Westmoreland County has three regional airports — two of them county-run — and there are a dozen or so nearby in other counties.

Pittsburgh International Airport, the region's largest, added ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant Air this year. Allegiant gets no special subsidy from the airport.

Incentive programs vary among airports, Spirit spokesman Paul Berry said. Some have none. Spirit reported $76 million in net income in June.

The size of the airport and amount of traffic determines which employees work directly with the airline, Berry said. If the scale of operations is large enough, Spirit hires its own workers, as at the Fort Lauderdale airport where the airline has its headquarters.

“At most of our other airports, we don't have that much traffic, so we hire third-party vendors to handle that traffic for us,” Berry said.

That's the case at Oakland International Airport, said Brian Kidd, marketing supervisor at the California facility. Major airlines can employ their own staff. Smaller airport incentives can be “a win-win,” but airports must be careful about regulations, Kidd said.

“Airports have to be fairly even-handed about this,” he said. “You can't offer an incentive to one carrier that's not available for another carrier.”

Gabe Monzo, executive director at the Arnold Palmer airport, said if another carrier came to town, “We'd serve them the same way.” The model drives traffic and economic development, he said.

“It's unique,” he said, “it's a new way of doing business. But it works for us.”

The county has an overall budget of $334 million. Anderson said this year the county is working around a $5.8 million deficit, which has shrunk to about $2 million because of higher-than-anticipated revenue from various sources, including the Marcellus shale impact fee. Commissioner Ted Kopas said the county evaluates its appropriation to the airport as part of its budget talks every year, as it does other county-related agencies.

“The way the airport has grown over the five years, the target investment has paid off,” Kopas said.

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Latrobe airlines services ramp crew members add water to a Spirit Airlines aircraft on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity.

Woman 'hears' Air India pilot talk of 'last flight', refuses to fly

NEW DELHI: The Germanwings crash and continuing mystery of the missing Malaysian airliner MH 370 seem to have created serious distrust between air travelers and pilots.

On Sunday, an Air India business class passenger onboard the aircraft scheduled to take off from Singapore to Delhi refused to continue her journey after she felt the commander said "this is my last flight" to a ground worker. The passenger, reportedly European, immediately told the crew she wanted to get off the aircraft and then alerted local security agencies, said sources.

Security agencies at Changi Airport asked the pilot to get off the plane. "They spoke to the pilot for about an hour. Only after it became clear to them that there had been a serious misunderstanding, the commander was cleared to operate the flight (AI 381) to Delhi," said a source.

Air India did not comment on the 'misunderstanding'. Sources say the commander was not satisfied with the ground staff over something. The passenger might have misunderstood the pilot saying "I am warning you for the last time" and assumed it to be "last flight". The difference in the accents added to the confusion, they said. The flight took off with an hour's delay.

Original article can be found here:

What’s up with the blue-and-white helicopter next to Catskill Regional Medical Center?

Flight nurse Tanya Gushin and Rich Willey, medical base supervisor, in the helicopter that's based adjacent to Catskill Regional Medical Center.

What’s up with the blue-and-white helicopter next to Catskill Regional Medical Center?

Well, it may surprise you that inside that one-story gray structure next to the landing pad, there is one helicopter pilot, one registered nurse and one medic living round the clock and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

They all have separate bedrooms and lockers and a shared kitchen, living room, two bathrooms, a laundry room, food pantry, stock room for medications and a decontamination room.

“Basically, it’s set up like a firehouse,” says Tanya Gushin, 29, flight nurse with LifeNet, who runs the medical helicopter service. “We bake a lot of cookies around here.”

The nurses and medics work 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on and then have five days off. The pilots work 12-hour shifts. There are four pilots, four nurses and four medics on rotation.

It also may surprise you that none of the crew are employed by Catskill Regional Medical Center: They all work for Air Methods, LifeNet’s parent company, the largest air medical provider in the world.

When a call comes in, the LifeNet crew can be in the air in as little as seven minutes.

“Most everything is already in the helicopter, and we are in our flight suits, so we just grab our helmets and head out the door,” says Gushin. “We do a quick 360-degree walk around the helicopter, the pilot runs through his standard aviation checklist and then it takes three minutes to warm it up.”

The helicopter crew heads out to 30-40 calls a month and has responded to stabbings, shootings, snowmobile and ATV accidents, car accidents, falls with significant injuries, heart attacks and strokes over the years.

Although based at Catskill Regional, the helicopter coverage includes Sullivan County and parts of Ulster, Orange and Delaware counties in New York and Wayne and Pike counties in Pennsylvania, as well. Patients can be flown to hospitals as far away as Albany, Scranton or Westchester.

“This is a very safety-conscious operation,” says Gushin. “Our slogan is ‘three to go and one to say no’ which means all three crew members have got to agree that it’s safe to fly. But if just one crew member is not comfortable with it, we don’t take off.”

Weather can be the biggest obstacle to flying, so they constantly monitor the local conditions.

“Once we are in the air, the local fire department is in charge of the landing zone,” says Gushin. “They set up a 100 by 100 area clear of obstructions such as wires and trees, and mark it off with cones. Then the pilot brings us down between the cones.”

“We’ve landed in fields and parking lots and on highways and Route 17,” she says. “Sometimes they land in remote spots and we end up jumping over streams to get to the victim.”

“Does it ever get old?” Gushin asks herself. “Well, I’ve only been doing this since May, but other nurses say they are still excited about their job even 10 years later.”

“You know, when I first started, I was afraid of heights. But after one flight, I was hooked,” she says. “And flying has given me an appreciation of how beautiful the Hudson Valley really is.”

Story and photos:

Flight nurse Tanya Gushin gets her flight helmet out of a locker at the helicopter facility at Catskill Regional Medical Center.

Military fly-by honors WWII aviator but raises concerns from Appleton residents: F-16 fighters from Madision flew low during afternoon memorial

APPLETON, WI (WFRV) Some Appleton residents got a jolt from some low flying military jets yesterday. Four F-16 fighters flew a missing man formation around 3:00 P.PM Sunday. 

While the flyby came without warning, Local Five's Terry Kovarik shows us it was in honor of a deserving veteran aviator. 

Story, video and photo:

APPLETON — The Appleton area is buzzing after military jets flew over the heart of the city, rattling windows around 3 p.m. Sunday.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars requested a military flyover this afternoon and there is no cause for concern, the Appleton Police Department said on its Facebook page.

Outagamie County Sheriff's Sgt. Angela Owens  said County Executive Tom Nelson called dispatch and said he had confirmed that F-16s from Madison conducted the flyover at the VFW's request. The flyover was planned and the pilots had permission.

She did not know how many planes had flown over.

A Post-Crescent Media reporter said he saw three military jets buzz over his house near downtown in a triangle formation.

A missing man aerial tribute consists of four aircraft flying in formation. After they are visible to people at the ceremony, one of the aircraft abruptly splits from the formation to signify the "missing man."

Story and comments:

Appleton Police: Low-flying planes part of military flyover

Action 2 News has received several calls and messages about low-flying airplanes in Appleton.

Police say the VFW requested a military flyover Sunday afternoon, and there is no cause for concern.

Police say they were notified of the flyover after the fact.

Story, video, comments and photo:

Volusia County sheriff's helicopters return to 24/7 service

The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office now has a fully staffed helicopter crew after a pilot on paid administrative leave returned to duty and joined four other airmen, including three new hires.

The helicopter fleet, which had been operating with four full-time pilots, was down to one since Aug. 20 when two pilots resigned — one for family reasons and another for a new job.

A fourth pilot, Michael Mankovich, was grounded during a supervisory inquiry. Mankovich is back on duty but the inquiry determined he failed to follow orders and must serve an unpaid 40-hour suspension next month, according to reports.

When the two pilots resigned and Mankovich was placed on leave, the Sheriff’s Office's three Air One helicopters operated with one pilot, Bud Darling II. Although the pilots who resigned in April and early August — Jonathan Egerton and Greg Brooks — stayed on with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, flying as needed and as their schedules permitted, the helicopters were not available at times to respond to emergencies and medical calls when Darling was not on duty.

But the fleet, which assists other local police agencies and flies trauma patients to hospitals in addition to Sheriff's Office duties, is available for all flights again.

“Air One is back at full service,” sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson said recently. “Air One is in service 24/7.”

Newly hired pilots started working with the Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 14 and Sept. 21. A third will began flying for the Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 21, bringing the crew to five fliers, Davidson said.

The hiring of the fifth pilot was prompted by the pilot shortage and was a step taken by Sheriff Ben Johnson to prevent future disruptions, Davidson said.

The aviation unit responded to 1,248 calls in 2014 and through August of this year, has responded to 900 calls, Davidson said.

Mankovich returned to flying Sept. 22, Davidson said. That was the day after the pilot was notified that he was being suspended, according to supervisory inquiry reports obtained through a Daytona Beach News-Journal public records request.

The investigation into Mankovich’s conduct began Aug. 8 after he refused to sign employee performance notices. The notices were the result of Mankovich’s refusal to follow orders regarding his job, reports show.

Documents show that in June Mankovich refused to document preflight inspections, even after being told by his superiors to do so. Mankovich flew 20 shifts and logged no preflight inspections, investigators said.

And in July, Mankovich failed to timely fill out the insurance forms for the agency regarding the helicopter in July and only did so when reminded repeatedly by his superiors, records show.


Victim pleads for mercy for 'hero' pilot prosecuted over dramatic rescue

Dave Armstrong, Kaikoura Helicopters director and pilot. He faces prosecution for a search and rescue mission performed while his license was suspended.

A "hero" helicopter pilot is facing possible jail-time over the dramatic rescue of an injured hunter who says he owes the pilot his life.

Hunter Scott Lee was left dangling on the edge of a 50-metre drop after falling in remote bush north of Kaikoura on April 5, 2014.

He suffered  a broken femur, and had to be tethered to a tree with his girlfriend's clothing to prevent him from plunging further down the bluff to his death.

Local pilot Dave Armstrong stepped up to complete the rescue after another helicopter had already turned back.

But now  he faces charges because his license was at the time suspended, due to a medical scare from a diagnosis which had already been called into question.

The prosecution is thought to be the first of its kind in New Zealand for a pilot performing a search and rescue mission.

The situation has outraged some in the flying community, as well as the hunter Armstrong saved, with the Christchurch man saying he was "absolutely devastated" for the pilot.

Lee has written to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) pleading for them to drop the three charges Armstrong is facing next week in Kaikoura District Court.

In the letter he explains how he had gone after his girlfriend, Lisa McKenzie, who had tumbled down a shingle bank, before tripping and badly breaking his leg on the tree that broke his 15-metre fall.

Armstrong then attempted the rescue, and it is understood he sat alongside his co-pilot as a supervisor because he was suspended from flying.

But his junior struggled to make the manouevre in their Robinson R44 light four-seater machine.

Kaikoura Search and Rescue (SAR) alternate controller Mike Morrissey said it was cloudy, the couple were in dense bush on a steep slope, and the view was that Lee could not be left overnight in such conditions.

Armstrong took the controls instead and dropped in Morrissey, a doctor, and the rest of the SAR team .

"Dave knew exactly where these guys were," Morrissey said.

"He's been flying to do rain gauges there every month for years.

"At that time Dave had the opportunity to do it. He was the best person for it so we used him."

Lee said he and his girlfriend had lost hope after hearing the first chopper turn back.

He had even accepted he might die alone by the time he heard the approach of Armstrong's chopper.

It took the SAR crew about six hours to stretcher Lee out of the bush, Morrissey said.

A source close to the case said Armstrong's flight-logs were later seized by police on behalf of the CAA.

The source said the day Armstrong flew, there was doubt about his medical issue and he had been challenging the opinion while trying to get the grounding order lifted.

Lee and McKenzie both wrote to the CAA in support of Armstrong when they heard of the prosecution.

"We truly believe that we owe our lives to Dave and the team that helped us, and there is no way we will ever be able to express our gratitude to them."

Lee wrote: "Clearly it was a life or death situation and we are grateful that Dave made that decision as I would not be here without him."

He said the pilot did not deserve such scrutiny.

"He's done a heroic act in my eyes. If anything, he deserves a medal for what he's done," Lee said. "He's a hero."

Wanaka pilot and Armstrong's friend, John Levy, said the cost of the prosecution and being grounded had affected the family's livelihood.

A spokesman for the CAA said it was not in a position to comment on the case while the matter was before the courts.

Armstrong and his lawyer also declined to comment.


The charges relate to alleged breaches of the Civil Aviation Act for performing search and rescue flights without a current medical license.

The Act, which is currently under review, says pilots can breach the law in life or death emergencies, but not if they are not lawfully entitled to fly.

That includes for medical reasons, or if their craft is not airworthy.

The maximum penalty is 12 months' jail or a $10,000 fine per offense.

Story and photos:

Hands-on experiences make Community College of Beaver County aviation program stand out statewide, nationally

Moore Aviation flight instructor Chris Wohlgemuth, left, of Coraopolis and student Logan Kress of Lisbon, Ohio, prepare a plane for flight on September 18. 

CHIPPEWA TWP. -- It’s a clear day in late September. The sun is shining, and a light breeze blows from the east. It’s a bit cramped in the air traffic control tower at the Beaver County Airport. 

 Four stories above the ground, Evan Johnson, Nathan Tkach and Josh Hunt watch the skies through 360 degrees of tinted windows. They are checking for a Cessna less than 10 miles out from the airport. Johnson is working local control today, guiding local pilots as they return to the airport. He speaks evenly into his headset, giving the incoming pilot clearance to land on the runway. Johnson, 21, of Pleasant Hills, checks the temperature and wind speed. Tkach, 19, of Robinson Township, works flight data.

It’s a quiet day for the crew in the air traffic control tower, with a handful of student pilots preparing for takeoff.

These aren’t seasoned veterans controlling the airspace of Beaver County. They’re fourth-semester students at the Community College of Beaver County about to graduate with an associate degree from the school’s air traffic control program. But along with that degree comes hundreds of hours of hands-on, on-the-job training -- a trait that makes CCBC’s program stand out.

Nationally recognized program

For nearly 50 years, CCBC’s aviation program has educated the next generation of pilots. The program expanded to include air traffic control in 1977. In 2013, a third track educating students in operating unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, was added. Aviation is a strength at CCBC, said college President Chris Reber.

“What I think we have is a model program where we are in a facility that is first-rate that provides hands-on instruction with renowned instructors,” Reber said. “These are the ingredients that keep it successful -- quality instruction, programs we can do well and programs that lead to successful careers.”

There are 36 aviation Collegiate Training Initiative Programs across the country. Only a fraction offer a drone program. CCBC’s program is the longest continuously running aviation program in the state. The Federal Aviation Administration has accredited the professional pilot program for its high quality, making it the only one of the six colleges and universities in Pennsylvania with professional pilot training to earn that distinction.

Retired Air Force Col. Bill Pinter, dean of the school of aviation sciences, said the accreditation allows students to receive a reduction in the required number of flight hours to complete their training.

“Our program, due to accreditation, is recognized as the best program in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Pinter said. “We have very dynamic programs with a national reputation. What we see is that our students are highly sought after.”

CCBC is the only one of the 36 CTI programs to offer students the chance to train as air traffic controllers in an on-campus tower and take their flight classes -- a private pilot’s license is required for the air traffic program.

In fact, a private pilot’s license is required for all students in the aviation program. The college has a partnership with two private flight schools -- ACES and Moore Aviation -- that operate out of the county airport. CCBC instructors teach the theory, math and history behind flight and, through the flight schools, students put what they’ve learned to practice.

“That’s the classroom, and we’re the labs,” said Brad Cossin, chief pilot at ACES and a 1990 graduate of the CCBC pilot program. “That’s why this program is one of the best in the country.”

Alec Schoedel remembers the first time he considered a career as a professional pilot. He was a senior at Hopewell High School with no idea what he wanted to do. He was offered a “discover ride” at the airport, where he could see what it was like to be a pilot.

Three semesters of college later, he’s working toward commercial flying certification. He recently flew to Rome, N.Y., by himself for the first time -- five hours and 250 miles in the sky alone.

“Not many kids can say they go to college and fly,” said Schoedel, 19. “If you don’t take advantage of this program, then you’re crazy.”

Rob Schattauer first heard about CCBC’s program as a high school student living in Slippery Rock. His parents were encouraging him to become an engineer, but after visiting an air show at the Beaver County Airport, he learned he could become a pilot at CCBC.

Now, Schattauer helps teach the next generation of pilots as the chief flight instructor at Moore Aviation. There’s a shortage of pilots in the industry -- major airplane manufacturer Boeing projects a need for 95,000 pilots in North America in the next 20 years. Pilots are required to retire at age 65, and since 2013, have been required to have 1,500 hours of flight experience. That’s up from 250, the requirement before the last fatal U.S. passenger airplane crash.

The training isn’t easy, Schattauer said, but it’s worth the time investment.

“Learning to fly is a very steep learning curve,” Schattauer said. “It’s like getting shot at with a fire hose -- you get all of the water at once.”

Hands-on experience

The folks in the air traffic control tower have a bit of a sense of humor. That’s necessary in the business, said Wayne Resetar, air traffic control program coordinator. That’s one of the things he looks for in a successful student.

“We look for somebody who is a little outgoing, that can take constructive criticism real well. People that can think outside of the box a little and have a good sense of humor,” said Resetar, who took the helm of the air traffic control program this fall. “Usually that’s a trademark of someone that ends up being pretty good at air traffic.”

When it’s time for the tape recording activity in the tower to be changed, an alarm sounds in the back of the air traffic control tower. It’s the opening notes of “Danger Zone,” the iconic theme from “Top Gun.”

It’s a stress-relief mechanism, Resetar said. Air traffic control can be a stressful business, he said, and the ribbing and jokes are a relaxation mechanism.

“The most challenging part is you want that successful ending to all the things you do,” Resetar said. “Along that journey to get to that successful ending, sometimes things crop up. That’s the challenge, just getting to that end result with the least amount of difficulties, and when they do crop up, having the ability to deal with them because you’re going to get them.”

The students know the job is important, but they need to have some fun with it, said Pete Kirkpatrick, a supervisor at the tower. They’ll be in the field for only a finite number of years -- the FAA requires mandatory air traffic control retirement at age 56, and the oldest a controller can be when hired is 31.

Ayla King will be much younger when she enters the FAA program in Oklahoma in January 2017. She will graduate from CCBC in December at 19 and will continue to take classes and, she hopes, work in the air traffic control tower. She’s one of more than 40 students to receive a job offer from the FAA this year.

Those interested in becoming a controller have to apply to the FAA, just like any other job. Once their resume and entry test are reviewed, the FAA makes offers to place successful candidates in a training class in Oklahoma City and, if they complete training, one of 315 air traffic control facilities across the country.

In 2014, the FAA changed the requirements, de-emphasizing the completion of programs like CCBC's. Now the main requirement for a controller job is to have three consecutive years of employment, though a biographical application and aptitude test are required before placement. That has hurt enrollment, Pinter said, but students like King still rise to the top of the program.

“It definitely helped, training here,” said King, of Middlefield, Ohio. “It has a very good reputation.”

King’s father is a captain with United Airlines. She already has a pilot’s license, but after visiting the Cleveland tower, she started considering air traffic control instead.

During her visit, she found that almost all of the controllers were CCBC graduates -- and they all had a good recommendation. Now a teaching assistant for third-semester students, King said the program gives students an experience that will help them acclimate to the job.

“It’s good hands-on experience,” she said. “We get to actually run traffic and pretend we’re running traffic out of Pittsburgh (in simulators). Going up to the tower to run ground control and get weather … that’s something a lot of schools don’t have.”

Every day in air traffic control is different, said Tom Hahne, a program graduate and tower instructor at CCBC. That’s part of the appeal.

“Students are actually forced to think about how they’re impacting real airplanes with people inside, and given that, they’re allowed to apply what they’ve learned in a classroom in a real-life setting,” said Hahne, 20, of Beaver Falls. “We see a lot of excitement on a day-to-day basis, having new people on both ends of the microphone.”

Having that control tower on campus is invaluable and one of the things that makes CCBC graduates stand out, Resetar said.

“You could sit in a classroom and lecture all day about how to control airplanes, but when you get to go do it, it’s different,” Resetar said. “There is no substitute for hands-on experience. It’s live. It’s real.

“Our students get that piece of it, where you can’t get that in other places.”

Story and photo gallery:

Head sets hang on the wall at Moore Aviation waiting for pilots to take when they fly.

Cessna 150F Commuter, N6922F: Accident occurred September 26, 2015 in Fort Wayne, Indiana

NTSB Identification: CEN15LA433
 14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, September 26, 2015 in Fort Wayne, IN
Aircraft: CESSNA 150F, registration: N6922F
Injuries: 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On September 26, 2015, about 0345 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 150F, N6922F, impacted terrain during climb after takeoff from Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA), Fort Wayne, Indiana. The airplane received substantial damage. The private pilot and a passenger sustained minor injuries. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight that was not operating on a flight plan. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The flight was originating at the time of the accident.     

FAA Flight Standards District Office:  FAA South Bend FSDO-17

The randomness and potential mayhem of a plane accident are particularly disconcerting, and when it happens, a community instinctively wants to know why it happened.

Such was the case when a small plane got into trouble after taking off from Fort Wayne’s Smith Field early September 26. On its way to land back at the airport, the Cessna 150F struck trees, a power line and a rooftop and flipped into the backyard of a Ludwig Park Drive home.

Federal Aviation Administration officials are investigating, and the National Transportation Safety Board has also taken an interest. But any report is predicted to be weeks away.

Shouldn’t local authorities be a little more involved, if for no other reason than to give the public some answers?

No one on the ground was hurt in the 3:45 a.m. crash, though a passenger in the plane was treated at a local hospital for injuries. The pilot apparently walked away from the scene. Beyond that, there was little information available to the media and the public.

Wednesday, attorney Michael Loomis said he already had notified the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board that Jeffrey Mills, the registered owner of the plane, was indeed the pilot. Loomis said Thursday that Mills had left the site of the crash “dazed and confused” and was also getting medical assistance, adding that “I can tell you that he has medical conditions outside the incident.” In fact, Loomis said, he had strongly recommended to his client that he surrender the medical license that allows him to pilot a plane.

By then, it had become clear that local police were not involved in the probe and that Indiana State Police had only a limited role in the investigation. The Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority would have gotten more involved if the plane had actually crashed on airport authority property, a spokesperson said.

“We are the lead agency on the accident investigation,” Anthony Molinaro, FAA spokesman for the Great Lakes Region, said Friday. Though agency representatives had not talked with Mills, FAA officials have viewed the crash site and will interview witnesses, study records and issue a report, Molinaro said. “We will be in touch with the pilot,” he said.

But Molinaro made it clear that the FAA would only be investigating the circumstances of the crash itself.

While Loomis has provided some answers to the media, his responsibility is first, of course, to his client.

The public still knows very little about the circumstances that led to the crash, and doesn’t even know what questions are going to be asked and answered by federal investigators.

  • Who was Mills’ passenger? 
  • When will the two of them be interviewed about the accident?
  • Are authorities convinced Mills was just taking a pleasure spin around the airport area in the middle of the night, as he told his attorney? What caused the plane’s engine to sputter out? 
  • Did Mills’ medical problems play into what happened and, if so, is there something other pilots should learn from the incident? 
  • Is there anything more local air authorities should be doing to ensure that apparently spur-of-the-moment airplane rides in the middle of the night are conducted safely?
The answers may be contained in a federal report, available in just a few weeks. 
  • Is that OK with everybody? 
  • Or should there be some kind of protocol to get local authorities more involved in such investigations?
Planes don’t fall out of the sky very often. But when they do, the public deserves some answers. 

Original article can be found here: