Sunday, August 14, 2016

Butter plant expansion leads to demise of Joshua Sanford Field Airport (KHBW)

Certified flight instructor and former airport manager Henry Peterson, left, and Patti Bruha, right, one of Peterson's students, talk about the closing of Joshua Sanford Field, a small airport in Hillsboro. The two, advocates of the airport's continued operation, stand on Runway 5/23 during an interview.

Frank Kablau inspects the inside of a wing on his 1965 Cessna 172 Skyhawk at Joshua Sanford Field Airport.

A sign board instructs pilots to sign a logbook at Joshua Sanford Field, a small airport in Hillsboro, Wisconsin. A gravel road leads to the runway and hangars.

With Runway 5/23 in the background, construction proceeds on a butter-making facility at the Land O'Lakes plant in Hillsboro, Wisconsin.

HILLSBORO -- There is no lack of quaintness at the Joshua Sanford Field Airport.

Those who land at the city-owned airstrip are asked to sign in on a faded yellow legal pad protected by Plexiglas in a self-serve kiosk constructed by Ian Collins, an Eagle Scout with Boy Scout Troop 83. The plaque doesn’t say in what year Collins built the structure.

The 3,600-foot-long and 50-foot-wide paved, lighted runway hasn’t been resurfaced in nearly 20 years and is sprouting weeds. There is no terminal, maintenance shed or a place to buy fuel — just two hangars that over the last few years have housed only a few aircraft.

And while the number of regular users at the airport can be counted on two hands, it’s not uncommon for those that do land to walk across the street for rings of bologna, two-pound rolls of butter and chunks of Muenster, Swiss and Colby at Janet Helgerson’s Cheese Store & More. This is where a sign above the three-door cheese cooler states “We ID Limburger Cheese Customers!”

“Everything I get is as local as possible,” said Helgerson, who has worked at the store for 37 years and bought the place in 2003. “The economy is tough. So goes the farmer, so goes everything else in town. And with all the small farms closing down, everyone has to go someplace else to work.”

But there are mixed feelings in this Vernon County city of about 1,400 people about a project at the Land O’Lakes butter factory that is bringing economic development to the community, located 23 miles northwest of Reedsburg.

The plant, purchased earlier this year by Land O’Lakes, makes quarter-pound, one-pound and 55-pound blocks of butter along with vats of butter oil used by commercial bakers and candy makers. But the facility is located at the southwest end of the airport’s runway, and an addition will create a safety hazard for airplanes. That has forced the city to close the little-used airport in exchange for jobs and tax base.

The 20,000-square-foot addition to the 28,000-square-foot butter plant will include a refrigerated warehouse, new employee entrance, locker and changing rooms, a break area and conference space. The project is part of $15 million worth of improvements planned for the facility through the end of 2018 that could also see the company’s Hillsboro workforce grow beyond its existing 30 employees, the company said in an email.

“We worked closely with the city to identify the best option to meet the needs of our growing business while helping to ensure the safety of our employees,” company spokeswoman Rebecca Lentz wrote. “This option was the one that met those needs.”

In January, the Hillsboro City Council approved a memorandum of understanding and a development agreement with Land O’Lakes. The city then floated a plan to close part of the runway and make it a restricted-use facility, but the hangar owners, Henry Peterson and Bill Lesnjak, threatened to sue the city, saying it would affect their operations. They dropped their case when Land O’Lakes paid Peterson $60,000 and Lesnjak $29,000 for their hangars that are in a flood plain thanks to the nearby West Branch of the Baraboo River.

The state Bureau of Aeronautics urged the city to prevent any incompatible land uses but had concerns about adding new structures and moving the runway protection zone. The Federal Aviation Administration also studied the issue and told the city that a hazard designation could only be removed if the 40-foot-tall Land O’Lakes addition was only 6 feet tall.

So, after months of debate and haggling, the city informed the state late last month that it was closing the airport. Bulldozers were at work last week moving earth for construction at Land O’Lakes, but mowing has stopped alongside the runway and takeoffs and landings will be prohibited by this fall.

“Was it an easy decision? No,” said Adam Sonntag, Hillsboro’s city administrator. “This has been six months of trying whatever we could in working with the state (Bureau of Aeronautics) and working with the FAA to come to some sort of reasonable solution. It was frustrating. These things have existed next to each other for the last 30 years and all of a sudden they can’t because somebody wants to add to it? It doesn’t make any sense to us.”

It’s unclear what will become of the airport property, which is along a bike trail. The flood zone eliminates the potential for development, although Sonntag said it could be used as parkland, a test track or for other uses that require minimal facilities.

Wisconsin is home to eight commercial airports, including Dane County Regional Airport in Madison and General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, but 90 airports are considered general use. They support activities like personal and business travel, charter services, tourism, sky diving, medical aircraft, flight training and agricultural spraying, according to the state Department of Transportation. That count does not include scores of private airstrips around the state, most of which are rural grass strips.

The airport in Hillsboro began as a pea gravel strip, has been both private and public over the years and was used by the Kickapoo Oil Co. founded in 1959 by Raymond Knower. Kickapoo, which grew to more than 60 stations before it sold to Kwik Trip in 1988, is credited with having the first self-serve gas pumps east of the Mississippi after it convinced the state legislature to change the law that required gas to be pumped by service station attendants.

The airport was taken over by the city in the 1980s and in 1993 was named after Joshua Sanford, a Native American World War II fighter pilot. He was twice wounded but highly decorated for his flying exploits that included 102 combat missions. He was also officially credited with downing eight enemy planes and was shot down or ditched his own plane 12 times.

Sanford, who was born near Friendship and graduated from Viroqua High School before attending UW-Madison, lived in Hillsboro after the war from 1948 to 1956 before moving to Reedsburg. Sanford died in 1962 from complications of war injuries. He was just 43 and is buried at Mount Vernon Cemetery on Hillsboro’s southwest side.

“I am deeply saddened that proposed construction by your company is going to be at the expense of our local airport,” Patti Bruha wrote in an open letter dated July 11 to Land O’Lakes and sent to the FAA, city, state and Ho Chunk Nation plus to media, including the Wisconsin State Journal.

Bruha, 66, was born and raised in Hillsboro, has a pharmacy degree from UW-Madison and is training to get her pilot’s license. When she was in high school, she took an aviation course as did many of her classmates. Now she’ll have to go elsewhere to train.

“We want the tax base from Land O’Lakes. We want the jobs, the city needs that,” she said. “But I think the city needs the airport, too. Can’t we just co-exist together?”

Peterson, who served as the airport’s manager and owns L.G. Nuzum Lumber Co., a firm founded by his grandfather in 1902, said he has moved his two Cessna airplanes to Reedsburg. The change will make flying less convenient for him, while the closure of the airport will take away part of the city’s character.

“I know jobs are important. I’m a small businessman,” Peterson said as we walked the runway. “There’s always traffic in and out of here. How lucky is a small town like Hillsboro to have an airport? Look at all the other communities that don’t have an airport.”

Story and photo gallery:

Cessna 150G, Prince Air Inc., N3666J: Accident occurred August 13, 2016 in Shirley, Suffolk County, New York


NTSB Identification: ERA16LA293
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, August 13, 2016 in Shirley, NY
Aircraft: CESSNA 150G, registration: N3666J
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

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 August 13, 2016, about 1300 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 150G, N3666J, was substantially damaged during cruise flight when the left side of the elevator detached from the horizontal stabilizer. The flight instructor and student pilot were not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight, which departed Montauk Airport (MTP), Montauk, New York, destined for Brookhaven Airport (HWV), Shirley, New York.

According to the student pilot, he and the flight instructor were on a dual instruction flight when the accident occurred. They had departed MTP and were on their way back to HMV cruising at 4,500 feet above mean sea level, when the student pilot noticed a roughness and vibration coming through the control wheel. He told the flight instructor about it, and then while looking around the airplane he noticed that the left elevator tip was hanging down 6-10 inches from its normal mounting position.

According to the flight instructor, when the student pilot complained that the airplane was handling "funny," he took control of the airplane and noticed that the left elevator was moving up and down uncontrollably. At this point, the airplane was directly in line with runway 24 at HWV, so the flight instructor made a slight power reduction to descend at 150 feet per minute, kept the wing flaps retracted, did not move the flight controls, and made a 7 mile long straight in approach to the runway where the airplane touched down firmly without further incident.

Examination of the elevator and horizontal stabilizer by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed that the left outboard elevator attach bolt had backed out of the nut plate. Further examination also revealed that the right elevator attach bolt would move in the nutplate when the elevator was moved up or down.

According to FAA records, the flight instructor held an airline transport pilot certificate with a rating for airplane multi-engine land, and commercial privileges for airplane single-engine land and airplane single-engine sea. He also held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine, airplane multi-engine, and instrument airplane.  He also held a ground instructor certificate with a basic rating, and a mechanic certificate with ratings for airframe and powerplant, with an inspection authorization from the FAA. His most recent application for a FAA third-class medical certificate was dated January 20, 2015. He reported that he had accrued 8,700 total hours of flight time, 1,300 of which were in the accident airplane make and model.

According to FAA records, the student pilot held a student pilot certificate. His most recent application for a FAA first-class medical certificate was dated November 14, 2013. He reported that he had accrued 56 total hours of flight time, all of which were in the accident airplane make and model.

According to FAA and maintenance records, the airplane was manufactured in 1966. The airplane's most recent annual inspection was completed on February 1, 2016. At the time of the inspection, the airplane had accrued approximately 2,860 total hours of operation.

The elevator attach bolts, nutplates, and bushings, were retained by the NTSB for further examination.

Piper PA18, N8999Y: Accident occurred August 27, 2016 in Birch Lake, Alaska

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Fairbanks FSDO-01


Date: 27-AUG-16
Time: 19:20:00Z
Regis#: N8999Y
Aircraft Make: PIPER
Aircraft Model: PA18
Event Type: Accident
Highest Injury: Serious
Damage: Substantial
Activity: Instruction
Flight Phase: UNKNOWN (UNK)
State: Alaska

Cessna 172N, N4955D: Incident occurred September 14, 2016 in Bedford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Boston FSDO-61


Date: 14-SEP-16
Time: 00:15:00Z
Regis#: N4955D
Aircraft Make: CESSNA
Aircraft Model: 172
Event Type: Incident
Highest Injury: None
Damage: Minor
Flight Phase: LANDING (LDG)
State: Massachusetts

Daines’ reps hear of Sidney-Richland Municipal Airport (KSDY) challenges

Two members of U.S. Sen. Steve Daines’ office were in Sidney this week to visit about any concerns related to the airport and air travel. Wallace Hsueh, deputy chief of staff, and Joseph Schmoll, legislative assistant, talked with airport authority members, county commissioners and city officials during the meeting.

Hsueh was impressed with the turnout. “There’s always a lot of passion here. If there are needs or issues with FAA or anything, we need to learn about it.”

He added that he is very focused on rural areas. “It’s important to find out a little more about the community and the airport. EAS (Essential Air Service) is obviously a huge priority. This is our time to listen and learn.”

Walt McNutt, a member of the area’s airport authority, explained that the Sidney-Richland Airport received $1.2 million for having more than 10,000 enplanements last year and earned primary airport status. Because of a slow down in the oil industry, the airport might not hit the magical 10,000 number this time around. “We’re probably going to fall a little short this year,” McNutt said.

When an airport doesn’t reach 10,000 enplanements, the funding decreases to $150,000.

Schmoll, however, provided the news that the one-year FAA agreement has a provision that if an airport has more than 10,000 enplanements one year, the airport will still receive the primary airport status and $1.2 million the next year even if it doesn’t reach 10,000 enplanements. “It’s only for one year,” Schmoll noted.

McNutt said, “That’s good to know about that. We can certainly put $1.2 million to good use.”

Richland County Commissioner Shane Gorder suggested that there should be some middle ground for airports between receiving $1.2 million and $150,000. “Why not figure something in the middle?” For example, an airport with 9,000 enplanements could receive $500,000. 

“I’ve always felt they should have a scale,” McNutt added. “Now it’s 10,000 or nothing. You shouldn’t just drop off the scale.”

McNutt also discussed the struggles of pilot shortages. He said one of the challenges is that pilots are required to have 1,500 training hours.

“They (pilots) aren’t coming to the airlines,” McNutt said. “They (pilots) are taking their flying skills some place else.”

Because of the pilot shortages, Cape Air has been forced to cancel some flights. McNutt said the airline has worked hard to have enough pilots for flights in eastern Montana.

“We need this changed somehow,” McNutt, a member of the EAS task force, said. “For us, it’s a pretty big deal. We and Cape Air are working hard.”

McNutt told the representatives that the Richland-Sidney Airport as about as good as it can be. Officials have just completed a 20-year master plan. “We have a very dedicated board and community.” Sidney receives a much lower subsidy than the other EAS airports in Montana.

Hsueh told officials to keep in touch with Daines’ office about any problems or concerns. 

“We’re always looking at making Washington work better and more in a Montana style,” Hsueh said.


Piper PA-31-325 Navajo, Oxford University Aircraft Charters LLC, N447SA: Fatal accident occurred August 14, 2016 near Tuscaloosa Regional Airport (KTCL), Alabama

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Birmingham, Alabama
Piper Aircraft; Vero Beach, Florida
Lycoming Engines; Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Northport, AL
Accident Number: ERA16FA289
Date & Time: 08/14/2016, 1120 CDT
Registration: N447SA
Aircraft: PIPER PA 31-325
Injuries: 6 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal

On August 14, 2016, about 1120 central daylight time, a Piper PA-31-325, N447SA, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain near Northport, Alabama, while diverting to Tuscaloosa Regional Airport (TCL), Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The private pilot and five passengers were fatally injured. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight plan was filed for the personal flight. The flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The flight departed Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM), Orlando, Florida, around 0855, with an intended destination of Oxford University Airport (UOX), Oxford, Mississippi.

According to fuel receipts, the airplane's fuel tanks were "topped off" with 134 gallons of fuel prior to departing ISM.

According to preliminary air traffic control data, the pilot reported a failure of a fuel pump and requested a diversion to the nearest airport around 1111. The controller the provided radar vectors toward runway 30 at TCL. When the airplane was approximately 10 miles from TCL, the pilot reported that the airplane lost "the other fuel pump." The airplane continued to descend until it impacted trees approximately 1,650 feet prior to the approach end of runway 30.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane. His most recent third-class medical certificate was issued in August 2014. According to a flight log found in the airplane, the pilot had accumulated 48.7 hours of flight time in the accident airplane since March 2016.

According to FAA records, the airplane was manufactured in 1984, and issued an airworthiness certificate in 1998. It was equipped with two Lycoming TIO-540-series, 350- horsepower, engines. It was also equipped with two 4-bladed Hartzell controllable pitch propellers. The most recent annual inspection was performed on November 13, 2015, and at that time the airplane had accumulated 3,260.8 total hours of time in service.

The airplane impacted trees, the ground, and came to rest in an upright position. The wreckage was oriented on a 011 degree magnetic heading, the debris path was oriented on a 300 degree magnetic heading, and was approximately 250 feet in length. All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene.

The fuselage was separated prior to the aft bulkhead and was heavily damaged by impact and a post impact fire. Flight control continuity was confirmed from all flight control surfaces to the cockpit through multiple overload fractures. Examination of the cockpit and cabin areas revealed that both control yokes were attached to their respective columns at the time of impact and that the throttle, mixture, and propeller levers were intact in the throttle quadrant, and in the full forward position.

The left engine was separated from the nacelle and remained attached to the engine mounts. The left engine turbocharger was removed from the engine and examined. The turbocharger vanes rotated without resistance. There was no rotational scoring on the housing unit. The left propeller remained attached to the left engine, was in the unfeathered position, and was rotated by hand. Crankshaft continuity was confirmed from the propeller to the accessory section of the engine. Thumb compression and suction were observed on all cylinders when the propeller was rotated.

The right engine remained attached to all engine mounts but was separated from the right nacelle. All major components remained attached to the engine. The right engine turbocharger was removed and examined. The right turbocharger vanes rotated without resistance. There was no rotational scoring on the housing unit. The right propeller remained attached to the right engine, in the unfeathered position, and was rotated by hand. Crankshaft continuity was confirmed from the propeller to the accessory section of the engine. Thumb compression and suction were observed on Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 6, cylinders. The No. 5 cylinder was impact damaged. The No. 3 cylinder was removed from the engine and no anomalies were noted with the cylinder, piston, or piston rings.

An engine data monitor and fuel flow meter gauge were found in the main wreckage area, retained for further examination. The left engine gear driven fuel pump, the right engine gear driven fuel pump, the right boost pump, and the right emergency pump were also retained for further examination.

The 1121 recorded weather observation at TCL included wind from 170 at 10 knots, gusting to 14 knots, visibility 10 miles, scattered clouds at 2,600 feet above ground level, broken clouds at 3,600 feet above ground level, temperature 30 degrees C, dew point 25 degrees C, and a barometric altimeter setting of 30.09 inches of mercury.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: PIPER
Registration: N447SA
Model/Series: PA 31-325 325
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No  
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: TCL, 186 ft msl
Observation Time: 1121 CDT
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 30°C / 25°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered / 2600 ft agl
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 10 knots/ 14 knots, 170°
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 3600 ft agl
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.09 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Departure Point: ORLANDO, FL (ISM)
Destination: OXFORD, MS (UOX) 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 5 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 6 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 33.222778, -87.599722 

Drs. Jason and Lea Farese

Dr. Michael Perry and his wife, Kim.

Dr. Austin Poole and his wife, Angie.

A plane crash in Tuscaloosa County has killed six people, three married couples who had attended a dental conference in Florida, and left a total of 11 children behind.

"It's tragic to lose these wonderful Mississippians. Deborah and I pray for the loved and lost, their families and friends,'' said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. "Life can be so uncertain, so we depend on the blessing of eternal life and reuniting. May God assauage the families' sorrow and hold them all in the palm of his hand."

The crash happened about 11:20 a.m. just east of the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport in Northport. The crash site is in a wooded field of Van de Graaff Park near an area known as Gate 1.

Tuscaloosa police Lt. Teena Richardson confirmed the six deaths. Northport police officials on the scene said the plane is not intact. 

Richardson said the plane was traveling from Kissimmee, Florida en route to Oxford, Miss. when the pilot reported engine problems. The pilot sent out distress call, and the plane went down behind the farmers market in Northport.

According to, an Oxford University Aircraft Charters departed the Florida airport at 9:55 a.m. but was diverted.

Three couples -- three men and three women -- were on board. Authorities have spoken with the pilot's brother. Despite widespread speculation that the plane had direct ties to Ole Miss, university spokesman Ryan Whittington said those onboard are not affiliated directly to the school. 

Ole Miss Chancellor Jeff Vitter said the crash was a "heartbreaking loss."

According to the Oxford Eagle, among the deceased are Dr. Jason Farese and his wife, Lea, both dentists, a family member and employee of Dr. Farese has confirmed with The EAGLE. The Farese's leave three children behind, ages 10, 7, and 5. The youngest just started kindergarten this week.

According to their dental practice website, Dr. Jason Farese was a native of Ashland, Mississippi, a 1997 graduate of Vanderbilt University, where he was an athlete. He obtained his dental degree from the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry. Upon graduation, Dr. Farese practiced dentistry at the North Benton County Health Center for two years.

Dr. Lea Farese also graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry with her dental degree in 2004. She is a native of Pearl, Mississippi and is a 1998 graduate of Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi.  She also practiced dentistry for 1 ½ years at the North Benton County Health Center. She has been practicing dentistry in Oxford since 2004.

Dr. Michael Perry, a periodontist, and his wife Kimberly, who is  nurse, and Dr. Austin Poole and his wife Angie, were also on the plane, the Eagle reported. The Pooles had five children.

Terry Lloyd, director of aviation for Kissimmee Gateway Airport, said it's his information that the three couples had been in Florida for a medical convention. "It's a terrible tragedy,'' Lloyd said. 

Officials at the Oxford-University Airport, which is owned and operated by the university, told they have not received any official information about the crash.

Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration arrived at the scene at approximately 3:25 p.m. As of 7:30 p.m., FAA officials had left the scene and NTSB officials were expected to arrive first thing Monday morning. Tuscaloosa County officials were still on the scene photographing and diagramming the crash site.

The bodies of all six victims have been removed and taken to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Montgomery for autopsies.

"It's a sad day," Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon told reporters gathered at the scene. "We want everybody to pray for the families." 

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox credited the joint efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies and fire departments that responded to the crash.

"It really speaks to the collective response of all the different agencies that were involved," Maddox said.

FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said the Piper PA-31 crashed into trees on approach to Runway 30. The flight departed Kissimmee Gateway Airport.

Pieces of the plane can be seen from the park's entrance on Robert Cardinal Road.

Van de Graaff Park is home to the state's oldest iron bridge. Northport officials said that the crash did not damage the bridge.

A woman who lives nearby, Wykita McVay, heard what she described as a "loud boom." She heard two booms, but didn't think it was anything to be worried about. 

She and her father said that loud noises are common in the area because of the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport. 

McVay said she "came out [to the crash scene] to see what was going on." 

She said it was "crazy" that a plane had crashed just minutes from her home.

Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ron Abernathy said that the crash is a "very sad situation." He did not give any details about the flight plan or the plane's distress call, but did say that the plane was a "small aircraft."

"It's very unfortunate," he said. Abernathy added that the plane was a "short, short distance from the runway." 

As for learning the cause of the crash, the sheriff said that the crash investigation will be a "long, deliberate investigation."


Heidi Kenmer, the National Transportation Safety Board investigator, appeared at the sheriff's hangar at the airport to give a press briefing on the status of her investigation of Sunday's plane crash.

There were no survivors after a plane crashed while attempting to make an emergency landing at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport on Sunday morning.

Six people died when the small aircraft crashed in a wooded, swampy park just east of the airport.

The pilot issued a distress signal around 11:10 a.m., Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon said. Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue crews stationed at the airport were based at the foot of the towers on the runway where the plane was set to land, Herndon said.

"Unfortunately, it didn't make it to the runway," he said.

No information about the possible cause of the crash was released Sunday.

The plane crashed in the wooded area of Van de Graaff Park just off Robert Cardinal Airport Road. The firefighters made it to the site within three minutes, but were unable to save the victims, Herndon said.

"They did everything they could," he said.

The 1984 Piper PA-31 Navaho registered to Oxford University Aircraft Charters LLC departed from Kissimmee Gateway Airport in Florida at 9:55 a.m. and was headed to Oxford, Mississippi, before the pilot diverted to Tuscaloosa.

"They were a very, very short distance from the runway," said Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ron Abernathy. "This is a very sad and very unfortunate situation."

Records show that the plane was registered to Jason Farese.

The Oxford Eagle reported Sunday that two passengers were Jason Farese and his wife Lea Farese, both dentists at Farese Family Dental in Oxford. The Fareses had three children, ages 10, 7 and 5, family members told the newspaper.

The paper identified the other victims as dentist Michael Perry and his wife, Kim, an Oxford dentist and nurse practitioner who worked at the University of Mississippi. They are survived by young children, the Eagle reported.

Also killed were dentist Austin Poole and his wife Angie, the parents of five children.

"There will be families hurting greatly because of this," Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox said.

The six had been at a continuing education seminar in Florida.

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration arrived at the crash site Sunday afternoon. The FAA is assisting the National Transportation Safety Board with the investigation.

The Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office is leading the multi-agency investigation and is expected to release further information as soon as it becomes available.

It was unclear Sunday when the wreckage would be removed from the site or when names of all the victims would be released.

"We're very sad for the families affected by this and we want to make sure we have accurate information before releasing anything," Abernathy said. "These investigations are very, very deliberate in nature and take a long time to get to the true cause of everything."


A plane enroute to Oxford crashed late this morning near Northport, Alabama, killing three married couples.

All six of the deceased are from Oxford, The EAGLE has learned.  They had been attending a dental seminar together in Florida.

Among the deceased are Oxford dentists Dr. Jason Farese and his wife, Dr. Lea Farese, a family member and employee of the Fareses has confirmed with The EAGLE.

Others killed in the crash are Dr. Michael Perry and his wife, Kim; and Dr. Austin Poole and his wife, Angie, sources have told The EAGLE.

Dr. Poole and his wife live in Wellsgate in Oxford, but his dental practice is in Clarksdale.

Dr. Perry graduated from Ole Miss and was a member of Kappa Sigma social fraternity. He graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry. He and his wife Kim had three children.

The Fareses, both dentists at Farese Family Dental in Oxford, left Wednesday for Florida, attending a dental continuing education seminar. They were returning home to Oxford this morning, the source said.

The Farese’s leave three children behind, ages 10, 7, and 5. The youngest just started kindergarten this week.

Three couples including the Fareses were on board the plane, officials said — three men and three women. The identities of the other two couples has not been confirmed, but both of the couples are from Oxford, the EAGLE has learned.

The other couples attended the dental seminar with the Farese’s and were returning home with them. Each of the couples has young children, but none of their children were on board the plane, according to reports.

The plane was operated by Oxford University Aircraft Charters LLC., according to flight information. Mississippi  Secretary of State records show the registered agent of the company Oxford University Aircraft Charters LLC. is Oxford dentist Dr. Jason Farese.

The address listed for the charter flight company is the same as Farese’s dental office, at 2212 West Jackson Avenue.

The plane is a Piper PA-31-325 Navajo. The plane left the Kissimmee Gateway airport in Florida at 9:55 a.m. eastern time this morning. Officials said they encountered engine problems around Tuscaloosa.

The crash occurred at about 11:20 a.m. this morning, east of the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport. Tuscaloosa police Lt. Teena Richardson told there are six deaths.

The plane went down behind the farmers market in Northport, officials said.

FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac told that the Piper PA-31 crashed into trees on approach to Runway 30. A woman who lives nearby told the news site that she heard two loud booms.

Dr. Jason Farese is a native of Ashland and a 1997 graduate of Vanderbilt. He attended the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry.

Dr. Lea Farese is a native of Pearl and she also graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry.


OXFORD, MS (WMC) - A small plane headed to Oxford, Mississippi crashed in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, on Sunday morning, killing all six people on board.

Northport Fire Chief Bart Marshal said a small fire was extinguished, but there were no survivors.

WMC Action News 5 confirmed Dr. Jason Farese and his wife, Dr. Lea Farese, both dentists in Oxford, MS, were killed in the crash. The couple has three children who were not on the plane. They were staying with friends, according to Dr. Farese's uncle, Steve Farese, who is a defense attorney in Memphis.

According to Farese Family Dental's website, Jason and Lea Farese both practiced dentistry together in Oxford since 2004. Jason is a native Ashland, MS, while Lea was raised in Pearl. 

Mayor Bill Luckett, of Clarksdale, Miss., confirms Dr. Austin Poole and his wife, Angie, were also killed. Dr. Poole operated a dental practice in Clarksdale. He and his wife leave behind five children.

Mayor Luckett's son is one of Jason Farese's cousins. 

"I've known him since he was born," Mayor Bill Luckett said. "He was a red-headed freckle face kid who was mischievous and fun."

Luckett also knew Austin and Angie Poole, not only from their thriving Clarksdale business, but also because they all liked to hunt.

"They love life. They were very energetic, outgoing, good people," Luckett recalled.

Our sister station, WBRC, in Birmingham, confirmed Dr. Michael Perry and his wife, Kim, were also killed. They leave behind three children. Dr. Perry has five dental practices located in Memphis, Collierville, Bartlett, Oxford, and Southaven.

"I cried. I don't know what to say," said Kevin Hooper, Dr. Perry's friend of 12 years. "Michael was the most energetic, the most fun. He always came into the room and had a smile on his face."

The airplane, a Piper PA-31-325 Navajo, departed Kissimmee, FL and filed an IFR flight plan for 12,000 feet, typical for this type of aircraft.

At some point around 11 a.m., the airplane began having problems. The pilot was on final for Runway 30 in Tuscaloosa when the crash happened; they were about 1,000 feet short of that runway. 

An NTSB investigator will conduct the investigation into what caused the plane to crash by documenting the scene, examining the wreckage, and requesting air traffic control communications and radar data.  

Jason Farese's father, John, survived a plane crash in 2011 because he had a parachute on board. His plane dropped out of the sky 50 seconds into the flight.

Utah’s new air ambulance companies raise the prices, and maybe danger, for patients • Is the growth of Utah’s air-ambulance industry about saving lives or making profit?

When an Eagle Air Med plane crashed into a Colorado mountain in 2007, killing three people, the nation's premier air-ambulance accreditor put the Utah-based company on notice that it could lose its stamp of approval, which would land Eagle out of business.

Critics of for-profit medical flight operators say the incident should have led state regulators to follow suit and tighten the reins on such companies. But when Eagle Air Med's response to the threat of losing its standing was to sue Colorado for having just one path to certification, Utah and other litigation-leery states instead began opening the door to an alternate — and, critics say, looser — accreditation group: the National Accreditation Alliance of Medical Transport Applications (NAAMTA), based in American Fork.

It's just the latest blow for Utah consumers, critics say, as the state's skies become crowded with airborne medical-transport services more concerned with profit than with patient care.

In the past year, four new medical helicopters have been established at Utah bases, bringing the number of rotary-wing ambulances serving the state to 20. Many are operated by profit-driven companies, which charge more for transport services than established players.

Federal law bars states from regulating aircraft routing, rates or operations, and Utah patients — who have no choice about which air ambulance company they ride with — have been hit with transport bills that top $35,000, far exceeding what even the most generous insurance plan will cover.

To complicate matters, the state can't require companies to share aircraft tracking data, which would allow emergency dispatchers to easily determine which provider can respond best to an emergency, and ensure patients get from accident scenes to hospitals quickly and safely.

"If you are injured on the side of the road, it's our job to make sure they are transported to the hospital safely with people who are properly trained," says Eric Swanson, medical director for the University of Utah's nonprofit AirMed — which makes its tracking data available.

"That has all gone out the window," Swanson says. "It's just the Wild West."

Patients are also losing out on medical care, he says, due to the state's recent decisions to recognize NAAMTA and disband the department of health's Air Ambulance Committee, which Swanson led. The panel of emergency medical transport experts had advised the state and developed rules for regulating the medical side of the air ambulance industry — the sole realm over which the state has a say.

The committee objected to NAAMTA gaining accreditation authority alongside the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems, or CAMTS, the longtime leader for accreditation companies. NAAMTA's staff and auditors lacked relevant expertise, according to committee members, and its standards appeared to be tailored to its clients' business models rather than national safety norms.

NAAMTA founder and Executive Director Roylen Griffin says the criticism has less to do with standards and more with unwanted competition.

The U.'s AirMed and Intermountain Healthcare's Life Flight, which act as nonprofit arms of the medical centers, have been "the only game in Utah forever ever and ever," Griffin says. "Now that the new hospital programs are coming ... there are new contracts, there are new things that the good ol' boys on the hill weren't ready for. They didn't know how to deal with it, so they think there's some shenanigans going on. ... They just fell asleep and didn't pay attention to the market."

The air medical transport industry is growing nationally, with the number of helicopters in service tripling in less than 20 years. Today, 1,045 helicopters and 362 planes are in service. According to the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS), helicopters fly 400,000 medical missions and planes 150,000 a year. Just over half these trips transport patients between hospitals.

Two Utah firms are key figures in the industry's rapid evolution: NAAMTA and Air Medical Resource Group (AMRG).

Headquartered in South Jordan, AMRG is an expanding national chain of 12 providers, including two Utah newcomers, Guardian Flight and AirCare, which are currently seeking accreditation from NAAMTA and are operating in Utah under provisional licensing, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Shanon Pollock, AMRG's vice president for development, declined to comment for this story.

While critics fear this expansion could water down the quality of service, the AAMS says it serves a vital medical need.

"The greater societal good is access to health care. There are over 80 million Americans who don't live within one-hour ground transport of a Level 1 or Level 2 trauma center," AAMS President Rick Sherlock says.

"If you live in any large rural area, southern Utah or West Texas, you may not have access to critical care centers," he says. "Air is the only access to critical care in times of need."

More than 300 trauma centers have closed in the past two decades, a period in which emergency room visits have tripled.

Meanwhile, the portion of the population over age 65 is increasing, from 13 percent in 2010 to 20 percent in 2040. Patients over 65 account for a third of medical flights.

Though flights aren't necessary for every patient, they're vital, Sherlock says, when someone has had a heart attack or stroke. "You have a limited window of time, the golden hour, to get that patient to an appropriate medical center that can directly treat their conditions. That makes a significant difference in the outcome for that patient."

But patients dealing with a life-threatening emergency are hardly in the position to shop around — and allegations of price gouging have increased nationwide and in Utah as the ranks of medical helicopters have grown.

A few years ago, a San Juan County man named Cortney Montella had an acute case of pneumonia when doctors at Blanding's Blue Mountain Hospital decided he should be flown to Salt Lake City for treatment. Eagle Air Med, an AMRG affiliate based in Blanding, flew Montella by plane and billed his insurance company $89,894 for the 268-mile flight.

The insurer paid $8,164, and Eagle's efforts to collect the rest from the patient have triggered multiple lawsuits.

In a suit filed against Eagle, Montella's lawyers contend he never agreed to such an exorbitant price, which should be limited to $7,561 — the amount allowable under Medicare.

Eagle filed a counterclaim against Montella seeking the unpaid difference. The case is ongoing.

AMRG is now also suing Sentinel Air Medical Alliance, which reviewed Montella's bill on behalf of the insurer and recommended the insurer pay only the $8,164, based on Sentinel's calculation of what it cost Eagle to fly the patient.

AMRG alleges Sentinel's "defamatory" reviews have cost the company more than $800,000 in billings that insurers have refused to pay.

Sentinel is aggressively fighting back, according to its chief partner Jeff Frazier, who says AMRG suit's aim is to silence his company and its efforts to bring transparency to this business.

"Your state was well served before these other organizations showed up. U. of U. and Intermountain Health provide a high quality of service at reasonable rates," says Frazier, who is based in Montana.

Those nonprofits use twin-engine choppers and seasoned crews that can pull off most mountain rescues and fly in poor visibility.

Many for-profit companies use cheaper aircraft, such as the single-engine Eurocopter AS350 — a model that has been involved in more than half the 23 fatal air-ambulance crashes since 2009, according to a database maintained by the University of Wisconsin's chief flight physician, Mike Abernethy.

Utah's nonprofits have experienced crashes, but none in the past decade. AirMed lost three crew members and a patient when a chopper took off into a storm and crashed in Little Cottonwood Canyon. In 2003, a Life Flight chopper crashed in dense fog, claiming the lives of three crew members; six months later, two more crew members were lost to a mechanical failure.

The crashes spurred safety changes and investments in more powerful aircraft.

But high-quality equipment and personnel means the firms have high fixed costs, Frazier notes. Such operations can be sustained only if these costs are spread around over many transports.

That's jeopardized by the arrival of for-profit providers, according to Frazier.

"Too many helicopters are chasing too few patients," he says.

And because the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act prohibits states from regulating pricing or routes on air ambulance helicopters, the situation is unlikely to change without action from Congress.

States do oversee the medical side of air ambulance services — but Utah and most others have outsourced this job.

Until recently, the South Carolina-based nonprofit CAMTS — which accredits 182 providers across the country — was the sole accreditation company recognized in many states, including Utah. But when the Utah-based Eagle Air Med sued Colorado over requiring CAMTS certification, the Utah Department of Health asked its Air Ambulance Committee to explore ways to authorize an alternative accrediting service.

The committee spent four years crafting criteria for selecting accrediting agencies and vetting would-be accreditors. A court reporter documented every meeting. In 2014, the state invited accreditors to apply for official recognition. NAAMTA's entry came in months late and failed to measure up in every category, former committee Chairman Swanson wrote in an email to Guy Dansie, the state's program manager for emergency medical services.

Among NAAMTA's deficiencies, according to the committee: a lack of clear conflict-of-interest guidelines; a lack of participation by national organizations in developing standards; a lack of relevant experience on its board; clinical experience not being required of its auditors; and that state health officials were not allowed on site visits.

The state's bureau of emergency medical services, however, overruled the committee and in January approved NAAMTA's participation in Utah's licensing program.

The bureau then dissolved the Air Ambulance Committee.

The committee was not authorized under any statute, Dansie says, but the department plans to reinstate it as a subcommittee without rule-making authority.

The state had little choice but to approve NAAMTA, Dansie says, because offering only one accrediting avenue could be regarded as an illegal constraint on trade.

"We've had outside air ambulance companies wanting to come in and they're threatening that if we don't play ball with them, they're going to cause problems or take us to court," Dansie says. "So we're a little gun-shy because we've seen what's gone on in other states."

Griffin rejects Swanson's criticisms and says state officials fully vetted his organization, which so far has accredited 15 clients.

"They've come in here. They've taken me apart and they can't find anything wrong with what goes on with the process," he says. "How could I sleep at night by having substandard standards or giving someone a free meal ticket to do whatever the hell they wanted to with safety and patient care?"

The real issue with the air ambulance industry, he says, is that the government doesn't give accreditors like him the funding to fully watch over companies.

Unlike CAMTS, which does a comprehensive re-evaluation of companies every three years, Griffin says his organization does one accreditation process and then has clients self-report on a quarterly basis about safety issues, new equipment, personnel, etc.

Ira Blumen, medical director of the University of Chicago Aeromedical Network, is an expert in air medical safety issues and finds it troubling that an accreditation agency would not do comprehensive follow-ups on its clients.

"One accreditation and you're done makes no sense to me," Blumen says.

But these kinds of ongoing reviews are expensive, Griffin says, and local governments should offer financial help if they want more.

"You need to either give the accreditation companies the money, or do it yourself," Griffin says, "or shut up and let us do what we can for the money we're collecting."

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