Friday, March 16, 2018

Free to fly? 'No records found' of city request for air restrictions during Ryder Cup

Authorities responded to a floatplane on Lake Hazeltine during the Ryder Cup.

There are “no records found” of a city request for air restrictions over Hazeltine National Golf Club during the 2016 Ryder Cup, according federal aviation documents.

The Federal Aviation Administration documents were obtained by the Chaska Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Two men were apprehended for landing a floatplane on Lake Hazeltine, adjacent to the golf course, the last day of the international golf tournament in Chaska.

Police Chief Scott Knight had called the pilot’s actions “stupid” and “imbecilic” to newspaper reporters. The two men are now suing Knight and the city of Chaska for defamation and violation of civil and constitutional rights.

They are seeking $225,000 in damages and reimbursement for legal costs.

The city’s attorney in the case, Andrew Wolf, said via email that the claims brought by the plaintiffs will be challenged in court.

“The claims asserted in this litigation have no merit and will be vigorously contested in federal court,” Wolf stated.

Chief Knight did not return a phone call for comment, and an attorney representing the plaintiffs declined to comment.

The city passed an ordinance restricting access to the lake in August 2016, however Lake Hazeltine is deemed a public waterway for landing a floatplane by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the state of Minnesota.

During the Ryder Cup, there was no DNR-approved ordinance, according to DNR spokesperson Joe Albert.

The lawsuit alleges the city’s application for airspace restriction during the Ryder Cup was denied. The suit also alleges the city did not request the Department of Natural Resources (which has jurisdiction over the lake, according to the suit) to limit access to or use of Lake Hazeltine during the Ryder Cup.

“There were no records found for the approval or denial of temporary air restrictions on the dates specified,” stated the Federal Aviation Administration, in a response to the newspaper’s FOIA request, covering the tournament dates.

The pilot who was arrested, Chanhassen resident Dean Johnson, claims he checked with the Federal Aviation Administration, DNR and the Minnesota Department of Transportation to ensure there were no airspace or lake restrictions in place before he landed the plane, according to a lawsuit he filed against the city and Chief Knight.

In October, following the incident, Knight told the Chaska Herald: “Our Federal Aviation Administration rep, with us all week, said that he’s in violation of flight standards, and the flight standards division will be opening a case on the incident, and that’s what I know about that.”

In an October 2016 Star Tribune article, Knight stated the pilot violated Federal Aviation Administration rules.

“The Federal Aviation Administration Flight Standards division is very interested in him. He’s violated their rules and they will be talking to him on Monday,” Knight said in the article.

The pilot, Johnson, 61, and Wayzata resident James Render, 64, were charged with petty misdemeanors the last day of the tournament after they landed on Lake Hazeltine, however the charges were later dropped.

Johnson was charged with unsafe conditions and endangering life or property and the city’s ordinance restricting access to the lake was referenced on the citation, according to the lawsuit they have filed against the city. Renner was charged with an ordinance violation.


Temporary flight restrictions are usually put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration to restrict airspace during large events, said longtime pilot Bill Halpin who works at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie as an aircraft mechanic for Hummingbird Aviation and holds several pilot licenses and an instructor’s license.

“(Johnson) was fully within his rights to land there at the time,” Halpin said, claiming there were no Federal Aviation Administration temporary flight restrictions during the Ryder Cup .

Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration placed a temporary flight restriction over U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis during the 2018 Super Bowl. The action restricted planes from flying below 18,000 feet within a 30-nautical-mile radius from U.S. Bank Stadium on the day of the Super Bowl, Feb. 4.


Before the tournament took place, Chaska police diligently worked on a security plan for months and partnered with agencies such as the Carver County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota State Patrol and FBI during the actual event.

The city itself nearly tripled in population every day of the competition, as a quarter of a million fans came to watch the tournament, which took place from from Sept. 27-Oct. 2. About 45,000 Ryder Cup fans walked the Hazeltine National grounds every day, with thousands more working or volunteering at the tournament.

Pedestrian and vehicle restrictions to Hazeltine National Golf Club were passed by the Chaska City Council in August 2016 before players from around the world were scheduled to tee off.

The ordinance passed restricted pedestrian access onto the course, banned public use of drones and limited the use of floating devices on Lake Hazeltine.

“During the Ryder Cup, no person may operate, maintain at anchor, or be on a boat or other floating device on Lake Hazeltine,” the ordinance stated. Any violation of the ordinance was a petty misdemeanor with a fine of not more than $300. The ordinance remained in effect until 8:30 p.m. the final day of the Ryder Cup.

However, the lake is also deemed as a public waterway by the state of Minnesota and is listed as a landing site for seaplanes in an airport directory and travel guide written by the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Office of Aeronautics.

“It’s a public waterway, I don’t know how a municipality can close public land,” Halpin said.

Additionally, there were no restrictions placed on the airspace above the golf tournament by the Federal Aviation Administration, he said. Halpin and Benjamin Porch, an instructor at InFlight Training School at Flying Cloud Airport said they flew over the event several times.

Hazeltine is located west of Flying Cloud Airport and is right under a path many pilots use on their way west to teach lessons to students and to practice maneuvering, Porch said.

“Typically with a big event like that, there will be flight restrictions over the area that says that you can’t fly there,” Porch said. “However, there was not one in place. There was not anything preventing anyone from flying over.”

Porch, who has been teaching students how to fly for 10 years, said he would usually advise his students to check with the Federal Aviation Administration before flying.

Halpin believes Johnson and Render did do their due diligence when it came to making sure they could land on Lake Hazeltine. He added it would be tough for pilots to look up ordinances in every municipality they landed in.

“It was completely accepted for everyone else who flew over (Hazeltine) except for that one guy who thought they would splash in,” Halpin said.


The lawsuit by Johnson and Render was filed in U.S. District Court on November 1.

“Because of the incident, the comments by Chief Knight and the reporting, plaintiffs were forced to answer many embarrassing questions and spent many sleepless nights worrying about how the publicity around the incident would harm their reputations from both a business and personal standpoint,” the suit stated.

In a October 2016 Pioneer Press article, Knight condemned the actions of the pilot.

“I’m just incredulous that anybody would think this is OK,” the paper reported Knight as saying. “In today’s world and environment with everything going on, to think it’s OK to violate airspace in this way is the most imbecilic thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

A settlement conference meeting is scheduled in June.

Original article can be found here ➤

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