ROCKLAND, Maine — The Knox County Commissioners approved Tuesday afternoon a package of improvements at the airport that were recommended in response to the airplane crash last year which killed three young men.
The commissioners voted unanimously to construct a road on the far side of Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head to reduce the number of vehicles that are allowed to cross at a crucial point of the main runway. The commissioners also approved installation of a system to record radio traffic at the airport and the purchase of camera equipment to record activity on the two runways.
Airport Manager Jeffrey Northgraves told commissioners that the new road would be located on the opposite side of the airport from the terminal to allow fuel trucks, for example, to get from one side of the main runway to the other more safely. The new road will allow vehicles to cross at the beginning of the runway instead of at the current crossing that is located at the 1,000-foot mark of the 5,000-foot long main runway.
Northgraves said that is the point at which most planes are becoming airborne. It also is where a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board indicates the four-seat, single-engine Cessna 172 struck a pickup truck at about 4:45 p.m. while taking off before crashing into the woods some 2,200 feet away on Nov. 16, 2012. All three aboard the plane were killed. The driver of the pickup was not injured.
The $100,000 estimated cost of the road project will be paid for through the annual grants received by the airport from the Federal Aviation Administration, according to Northgraves. He said the money had been planned to do paving and painting on the runways, but that the county can reduce that work this year in order for this greater priority.
The airport manager said there still will be reasons for vehicles to cross the main runway at the current crossing, but that he had already taken other administrative steps to improve safety. Among those steps, the airport is requiring additional training for people who operate vehicles within the fence of the airport grounds.
All vehicles authorized for use at the airport are now required to have a flashing light on top.
The National Transportation Safety Board reported that the 1994 GMC pickup truck driven on the runway on Nov. 16 by Stephen Turner, 62, of Camden had no beacon light that would have made it more visible to aircraft.
Northgraves also told the commissioners Tuesday that recording radio traffic will cost $800 this year for new equipment and $200 in each subsequent year for software. That equipment can be up and running almost immediately, he said.
In terms of cameras for the runway, the manager told commissioners he will buy a wireless camera at first and place it at different locations to determine where permanent cameras can be installed. The initial camera will cost $300. He said additional cameras would likely not be installed until 2014.
The current cameras at the airport are aimed at the terminal and are used by the Transportation Safety Administration for security and passenger screening.
The Nov. 16 crash killed Marcelo Rugini, 24, of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; William “BJ” Hannigan, 24, of South Portland, who was a member of the Maine Air National Guard; and fellow passenger and UMaine student David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass.
A notice of intent to sue for $2 million was sent to the county Dec. 26 on behalf of Jeffrey Spear of Nobleboro, who is the personal representative of the estate of Rugini. The notice stated that the crash was due to the negligence of the county for, among other things, allowing a motor vehicle on the runway.