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December 6, 2012

Knox County airport to implement changes after fatal crash

Flashing lights on vehicles and a new road at the end of the runway are some of the improvements.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A plane crash that killed three men last month has prompted a series of operational changes at Knox County Regional Airport that its manager hopes will make the airport in Owls Head safer.

The changes, to be introduced Thursday at a meeting of the airport advisory committee's subcommittee on operations safety and maintenance, are a response to the Nov. 16 crash that killed two University of Maine students and a recent UMaine graduate.

A plane piloted by William Hannigan III of Portland hit a pickup truck that was crossing a runway as the airplane was taking off. Hannigan's Cessna 172 spun out of control in the air, crashed and caught fire about 2,200 feet from the site of the collision.

Hannigan, a 2011 UMaine graduate, died along with his passengers -- David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass., and Marcelo Rugini, 24, a foreign exchange student from Brazil. Cheney and Rugini were students in Orono.

Jeff Northgraves, the airport's manager, said Wednesday that, "If these changes are implemented, I think we will be going beyond what other airports our size are doing."

The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the cause of the crash, and is not expected to release its final report for several more months.

In its preliminary report, the NTSB said the pickup truck's driver, Stephen Turner, 62, of Camden, stopped short of the runway before announcing his intention to cross it on a radio channel that pilots and airport workers use to communicate.

The NTSB said Turner "heard no (radio) response nor saw anything on the runway, and he proceeded to cross runway 31."

The report indicates that Turner did not feel the impact but did see the crash, which occurred about 30 minutes after sunset.

Northgraves said Turner's truck did not have a beacon light that rotates and flashes -- something that Northgraves will recommend on all airport vehicles.

Northgraves will also recommend building a new road at the end of the runway -- at the point where planes have gained altitude and pose no threat to vehicles on the ground.

The current vehicle crossing is at the 1,000-foot mark of the 5,000-foot-long runway -- where the truck and the plane collided.

A third change would require the recording of all radio transmissions on the channel that pilots and airport workers commonly use.

There is no record of the transmission that Turner says he broadcast just before the accident.

Northgraves said he will recommend the installation of motion-activated video cameras to record all aircraft landings and departures.

"We can alter the rules and improve the training, but how in the world can we police (aircraft movement) in the middle of the night?" Northgraves said.

Like many small airports, Knox County does not have a control tower.

Pilots land and take off at all hours, relying on visual contact and radio transmissions to coordinate safe landings. Some pilots file flight plans while others do not.

Hannigan did not file a flight plan, Northgraves said.

Knox County Regional Airport is also updating its master plan, a blueprint for guiding growth for the next decade.

"We've introduced some changes to make the airport safer," Northgraves said. "It's the right time to step it up."

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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