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Mon, Apr 19, 2004

SnF Fender-Benders: It Could Be Worse…

Well-known Glasair III builder Terry Morris and his passenger, Erin Bartone, both of Tamarac, FL, survived a mishap at Sun-n-Fun without serious injuries. Nonetheless, it was a close call that left Ms Bartone slightly injured. Terry's award-winning Glasair, "Jawbreaker," wound up inverted and leaking fuel, "substantially damaged" according to the NTSB investigator.

We first learned about the accident when our photographer Tyson Rininger was stuck at Bartow Airport by the closure of Lakeland Linder Field. At first, Sun-n-Fun officials and Lakeland police were not immediately forthcoming about the mishap, but later they conducted an unscheduled press conference and released more information.

Tim Manville from the Miami office of the NTSB will be investigating the incident. He described his information as preliminary and said that his initial report of factual information would likely be released in about five business days.

The Mishap Flight

Bear in mind that this is preliminary information and that investigation is ongoing. The flight originated at Ft Lauderdale. The pilot reportedly told NTSB in an interview that he has landed on Runway 9R six times previously at this annual event. This time, the controller directed him to land on Runway 9L. He didn't hear any instruction addressed to him, and continued an approach to 9R. However, the controller called him as "low wing aircraft" (the standard wording in NOTAMs for large airshows is that controllers will call airplanes by type if possible, description, and color). There was naturally some confusion over which low wing aircraft the controller had in mind.

When Morris realized that the 9L calls were for him, he sideslipped to runway 9L and landed there. He touched down right on the edge of 9L and caught the grass. He rolled about 500 feet, diverging into the grass until his nose wheel struck the concrete base of a taxiway light. The wheel departed the nose gear and the Glasair went up and over its own nose.

According to police, they responded within minutes, as did other emergency services. The crash victims Morris and Bartone were quickly examined and, as necessary, treated, and a contractor took quick action to control an estimated 40 gallons of 100LL that had spilled from the wreckage and prevent environmental damage.

The airfield was closed for 1.5 hours and the runway remained closed longer than that, but operations remained on the other runway.

The Accident Airplane

The mishap aircraft is a Glasair III that was built by Terry Morris and received its initial Certificate of Airworthiness on March 9, 2002. Lots of people know it because it's a highly unusual machine. For one thing, it has a monster Lycoming IO-720 engine, an eight-cylinder behemoth that also has been modified for higher-than-stock performance (450 horsepower). For another, the workmanship on the machine is simply stunning - it won a Bronze Lindy at Oshkosh, 2003.

One of the freelance photographers remembered the plane as having competed in the Sport Class at Reno. We were unable to confirm this information by deadline.

The pilot reportedly told NTSB investigators that there were no mechanical problems with the machine prior to the accident. After the accident the plane was removed and will be secured until released by NTSB, to the frustration of the media. Of course, we have images.

Serious Accident in Paradise City?

The news from the other accident is sketchy, but apparently a powered parachute or paraglider had an inflight collision with a tree. The ultralight area, Paradise City, was shut down while a medical evacuation helicopter came in and removed the injured pilot to hospital.

UPDATE: by the end of the day, the Paradise City area had been swept by the rumor that the mishap pilot had been treated and released at the hospital -- and was in a cab on his way back to the airfield. We'll keep looking into it for you.

And the usual Hangar Rash and Runway Rage…

Ah, what a week. Before today's mishaps there were several other "events" as Sun-n-Fun officialdom refers to mishaps. Here are some of them:

"On Friday, a pall of black smoke rose from the area underneath the approach path into the ultralight area. The area that might be well used as a safety zone is part of the parking lot. The cause of the smoke turned out to be a hot Fiero parked on tall grass. By the time the fire department arrived, the Fiero was fully involved and the fire had spread to an adjacent truck. It was bad news for the owners of the incinerated vehicles, but no one was hurt and the firemen kept the fire from spreading further. This time, it was not an aircraft or ultralight. Perhaps it was a warning.

"The same day a beautiful AT-6 was seriously damaged in a groundloop accident. The left leg of the landing gear along with the spar, wing skins, and propeller were obvious write-offs, but again no one was injured.

"Saturday a taxi accident took Randy Henderson out of the airshow lineup. Stories disagree about whether the car leading the conga line of show planes merely stopped, or actually reversed; but the consequence is the same: Randy's propeller struck the trunk of the car, stopping his engine abruptly. The good news is that, once again, no one was harmed. All of us at Aero-News wish Randy the best of luck for speedy repairs, positive results of the necessary inspections, and a rapid return to the airshow circuit.

Summing Up

Considering the number of operations at Sun-n-Fun, an occasional groundloop or taxiing mishap is all but inevitable. The important thing is that no one received serious, permanent injuries. We salute the efforts of the pilots, controllers, and countless volunteers that made this year's show one of the safest in memory.

Could it be safer? Of course it could; it's an event run by humans and, like all human efforts, imperfect. But let's not lose sight of what has gone right just because we strive to fix what went wrong. The reason we study accidents, is so that we don't repeat them.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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