OWLS HEAD, Maine — Airport manager Jeffrey Northgraves said the settlement reached earlier this month over last year’s fatal plane crash, which cleared Knox County of wrongdoing, is what he had expected.
“We do more at this airport for safety than 90 percent of general aviation airports across the country,” Northgraves said.
Of the $4 million total that will be paid out to the estates of the three crash victims, Knox County’s share will be $15,000. The bulk of the payments are coming from the insurance carriers for the driver of a pickup truck that collided with the plane on the tarmac and his employer, Penobscot Island Air.
Aside from the existing safety measures at the airport, Northgraves pointed out Thursday that more is being done all the time, including the planned installation over the winter and spring of a wildlife fence that will encircle the airport at the cost of about $900,000.
The need for the fence was highlighted this week, the manager said, when a Cape Air airplane had to abort a takeoff after striking a deer on the runway.
The nine-passenger Cape Air plane was taking off Tuesday evening with one passenger when it struck the deer, killing the animal. The only damage to the plane was a broken headlight, Northgraves said. The pilot aborted the takeoff and that flight was canceled, he said.
Last year, there were five incidents of aircrafts striking animals. The wildlife that are the greatest nuisance to planes are deer, turkeys, turkey buzzards and seagulls. Northgraves said that the 10,000 feet of fence will deal with all those animals except the seagulls.
Workers will start erecting the fence during the winter in the wetland areas of the airport grounds.
The county also is investing 5 percent of the $150,000 cost of constructing a new 1,000-foot road parallel to the main runway. That will allow ground vehicles to cross that main runway at the end of the runway rather than at the 1,000-foot mark where crossings now occur.
That is where on Nov. 16 the collision occurred between the Cessna 172 single-engine plane and the 1994 GMC pickup truck driven by Stephen Turner, 62, of Camden. The 1,000-foot mark is a critical point during takeoff for pilots.
The plane lost its right elevator and right rear stabilizer in the collision. The plane briefly continued its ascent before crashing in the woods, 2,200 feet from where the collision occurred.
Killed were Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity president David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass.; the fraternity’s education officer, Marcelo Rugini, 24, of Muliterno, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; and pilot William “BJ” Hannigan, 24, of South Portland, an engineering graduate student and member of the Maine Air National Guard.
Since the crash, the airport also has installed equipment to record all communications by aircraft and vehicles at the airport. Northgraves said while this would not have prevented the crash, it would have allowed investigators to know who said what in the moments leading up to the collision.
An internal investigation by the airport did determine who said what, he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board has yet to complete its investigation of the crash.
The new recording device has been beneficial, however, in that airport officials can determine if someone is doing something inappropriate. For example, the airport manager said he has recorded a pilot who was landing by making a turn in the wrong direction from what is called for at the airport.
“It was like a driver going the wrong way on a one-way street,” he said.
The manager said he will speak to people when he hears improper actions being taken.
“The rules of this airport are published online and in print in a zillion places,” Northgraves said.
The airport may eventually install cameras that could capture a collision but he again said that would not have prevented last year’s crash. A camera would help after the fact in investigations and also would allow the airport to determine what aircrafts are landing at night.
The airport does not currently charge planes for landing but charges for overnight parking of the planes. If the airport had cameras, it could record the tail numbers of each plane and bill pilots even if they depart before morning.