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"Crash raises questions about airport amid neighborhoods"



Saturday, December 3, 2011

Crash raises questions about airport amid neighborhoods 
By Kathleen Thurber
The Midland (TX) Reporter-Telegram


A plane crash in Northeast Midland on Friday raised new questions about the
safety of an airport in the midst of a growing metropolitan area.
 
Pilot Page Mund was scheduled to land at Midland Airpark at 8:04 a.m. Friday
when his King Air F90-GT crashed into a neighborhood just south of Loop 250
near Lamesa Road.

Officials said incidents like this are rare. The last major crash near
Midland Airpark took place in 1995. However, whenever a major event occurs,
it always brings up questions about the airport's location.
 
"It is a concern," Mayor Wes Perry said. "We were close to moving the
airport 30 years ago. The economy fell down, and it never did happen."
 
Since then there's always been a hope that some developer would offer to
purchase the property near Loop 250 at a cost that would allow the airport
to be moved, Perry said. However, no developer has even discussed the
matter.
 
"The expense to move it is significant," he said. "I don't know the numbers.
It's millions of dollars if not hundreds of millions."
 
Midland Airpark opened in 1940 when there was little development around the
air field, Director of Airports Marvin Esterly said. As neighborhoods have
continued to grow, airport staff work to control for safety in the area as
much as they can but know they can't control for every factor.
 
"We try to control the environment around airpark, but you're going to have
issues just like you would on the road," he said. "Every time there's an
incident of this magnitude it makes you think. It's human nature to look at
it this way."
 
Esterly added there are several other airports, including Dallas Love Field,
that operate safely inside of cities, and Midland Airpark is no different.
 
"It's as safe as any other airport that sits in this unique situation," he
said.
 
Before Friday's incident, the most recent major crash occurred when a
23-year-old pilot and his passenger died after they crashed while taking off
from Midland Airpark in September 1995. The two were headed to Alaska for a
fishing and hunting trip, according to NTSB reports. In that incident, the
pilot took off at a "very steep angle" and later lost control, hitting a
home, the report states.
 
Another fatality occurred in September 1982 when a pilot lost power and hit
the roof of an apartment complex, according to a report filed with the
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). One of the plane's passengers
was killed, and the pilot and three others were seriously injured.
 
In recent years, only minor incidents have been reported. In May 2009, a
student pilot hit a fence during take-off, according to NTSB reports, but no
nearby structures have been impacted in the past decade.
 
Vicky Hailey, Midland City Councilwoman who visited the crash scene Friday,
said a serious discussion about moving Midland Airpark hasn't come up during
her tenure.
 
Knowing Friday's incident wasn't the first to occur, Hailey said if the
topic arises, she hopes the council will examine it.
 
"It is something that values looking into," she said.
 
Perry said he doesn't think the cost of relocating the airpark is a burden
the council could ask taxpayers to bear. Unless a developer shows interest
in moving it, the airpark likely will remain.
 
Ernest Angelo, who was mayor in the 1970s, said the council at that time saw
Midland Airpark and its location as an asset, and the council invested in
improving it.
 
Esterly said Midland Airpark will continue to operate safely.
 
When fatalities occur on Loop 250, Esterly said no one discusses closing the
road. Similarly, the rare instances that occur at Midland Airpark shouldn't
necessitate its relocation.
 
"It's an accident. It doesn't happen very often, but it's going to happen,"
he said. "It's still a safe airport."
 
* * *
 
The most recent crashes at Midland Airpark:
 
Sept. 24, 1982:
 
One passenger was killed when a Beech TSIO-520-L hit an apartment complex
near Midland Airpark after takeoff.
 
The pilot reported he lost power after takeoff and then lowered the nose of
the plane as he attempted to build up speed. When he came close to the
apartment complex, the pilot attempted to pull up but the plane hit the
roof, landed in the parking lot and caused a fire. In addition to the
fatality that occurred, the pilot, one passenger and a resident at the
complex suffered burns and were classified as seriously injured.
 
A follow-up investigation showed there weren't any mechanical defects that
would have caused the plane to lose power.
 
Sept. 7, 1995:
 
A 23-year-old pilot and his passenger were killed when a Grumman 0-320-E2G
struck a house after takeoff.
 
The 23-year-old was a recently certified pilot and was en route to Alaska
for a three-week hunting and fishing trip. He had taken off on runway 29 --
which no longer exists -- in a tailwind that gusted up to 24 knots. After a
long takeoff roll, the pilot took a steep angle of climb while on departure,
cleared the ground and nearby commercial buildings and then lost control and
hit a nearby single-story residence.
 
Dec. 2, 2011:
 
Pilot Page Mund, 53, crashed into a north Midland neighborhood about 8 a.m.
Friday, damaging two houses and destroying the King Air F90-GT.
 
Both Mund and the residents of the homes were not seriously injured. The
Federal Aviation Administration completed its on-scene investigation Friday
but it could take up to a year before the National Transportation Safety
Board completes its report. The investigation continues and no cause has
been identified.
 
Source: National Transportation Safety Board reports, FAA officials

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