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"DC-8 has tight squeeze landing at wrong airport"

Saturday, December 9, 2000

DC-8 has tight squeeze landing at wrong airport
By Helen Lounsbury

EAST TAWAS - Marv Poland was plowing snow at tiny Iosco County Airport
Friday when he saw what looked like a dark cloud to his side.

Glancing, a DC-8 loomed into focus - bearing down, all 70 tons, wanting to
share Poland's runway.

"I got out of the way," said Poland, airport manager. "We have low
approaches often, but they usually power back up when they see the airport.
This is the first time one of these big birds has landed."

Shoe-horning might better describe the BAX Global jet's 10 a.m. landing. The
DC-8 pilot mistook the East Tawas airport for the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport -
the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base - eight miles to the north. He was
heading there for maintenance at Triad International Maintenance Co., an
aircraft repair company on the former base.

However, rather than landing his jet hulk on Wurtsmith's 300-foot wide
runway, the pilot squeezed into Iosco's 4,800-foot long and 100-foot wide
runway. On Friday, the DC-8s outboard engines, much less its 142-foot wing
span, extended will beyond the Iosco runway lights.

"It used every inch of runway space to land here," Poland said. "He did a
good job landing. Right in the center of the runway."

Local private pilots gathered at the Iosco Airport Friday to marvel at the
cargo plane pilot's feat. Poland estimated he landed with 800 feet of runway
to spare.

They hoped, too, to see the big bird take-off.

It wasn't to be. As darkness neared and managers still awaited a new flight
crew and a Federal Aviation Administration waiver to fly the plane out, they
postponed takeoff until 10 a.m. today.

That means a return to duty for 15 East Tawas Fire Department members and a
half dozen fire and rescue trucks - should something go wrong today. It also
means re-evacuating a home and two hunting camps that lie off the runway's
end, emergency crews said.

That's because the DC-8 needs at least 3,500 feet of runway to take off.
Iosco's 4,800-foot runway is ample, but only if all goes well. If not, the
airfield leaves no stopping room for a jet that size, airport managers said.

"Put it this way, if I had to do either, I'd rather land the plane than
take-off from here," Poland said.

The pilot who landed the DC-8 may disagree. He appeared abashed at his
landing error Friday.

"Everybody left the poor pilot alone," said Bill Deckett, East Tawas Fire
Chief and a private pilot. "We gave him his space. He was so embarrassed."

Yet in truth, the pilot had little to guide him, area flyers say. DC-8s are
designed to be radar-controlled, but the radar that once guided pilots to
the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base was dismantled when the base closed in
1993. That means all aircraft, big or small, fly by the same "visual" flight
rules. The pilot's eye only must pick the right runway, area flyers say.

To complicate matters, Friday's DC-8 pilot was talking by radio to
Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport officials as he made his approach to the East Tawas
airfield. Oscoda flight controllers told him they had plow trucks on the
runway - just as the pilot spotted Poland's snowplow. Then, just after the
pilot told controllers to "clear the plows," Poland exited the runway.

"It definitely added to his confusion," Deckett said.

On Friday, TIMCO crews brought in a specialized tug to push the jet back to
the runway start, in position for today's takeoff. Workers planned to
dismantle runway lights early today so the jet's thrust didn't destroy them.

Still, the flight delay made airport managers nervous.

"There's just a thin asphalt layer out there," Poland said. "The longer they
wait the worse it could get. That plane would have sunk right in if it had
landed in the summer."

On today's frozen airfield, Iosco emergency managers say they're poised,
fingers crossed, for an uneventful takeoff.

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