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Yeager reopens after fatal crash

KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail
The left wing and another piece of the Short 330 cargo aircraft lie in the grass near the runway.
KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail Command center below the airplane accident on the airport.
KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail
First responders walk past the left wing of a cargo plane that crashed Friday morning at Yeager Airport, killing the two crew members on board.

Yeager Airport in Charleston has reported it is reopen and resuming normal operations after a Friday morning crash that killed two shut the facility down.

Two people died Friday morning when their cargo plane crashed at Charleston’s Yeager Airport shortly before 7 a.m.

More details on the crash are expected to be released at a 4:30 p.m. press briefing at the airport.

The aircraft — owned by and operated by Milwaukee-based Air Cargo Carriers, a contractor for UPS — landed on the end of the airport’s runway closest to Charleston, veered left and crashed down a wooded area on a slope overlooking Barlow Drive, airport spokesman Mike Plante said.

There were two people on board, Plante said. Their deaths were confirmed by Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, who later said the two were based in West Virginia.

The aircraft took off from Louisville International Airport, in Kentucky, at 5:41 a.m. and arrived at Yeager around 6:53 a.m., according to the flight-tracking website flightaware.com. According to the website, the airplane was supposed to take off at 3:40 a.m., but was delayed for two hours.

“Unfortunately, this was a terrible crash. The airplane obviously came in sideways, came in hot, struck the runway early on the threshold and then rolled over the hill,” Carper said at a news conference at the airport about three hours after the crash.

The aircraft ended up in thick woods, and officials said crews were still clearing the area with chainsaws hours after the crash. A wing with an engine attached could be seen a short distance below the runway grade.

“We were able to tell where the crash was, frankly, by smelling the fuel,” Carper said.

The airport reopened at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon, after being shut down at the direction of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Terry Sayre, the airport’s director. The NTSB said on Twitter that it is investigating the incident. The Federal Aviation Administration also is investigating, Carper said.

The FAA regulates airlines. It sets the rules for airlines and, when incidents occur, investigates to determine if any regulations were violated. The NTSB is an independent agency that investigates to determine the cause or causes of crashes and to recommend how various parties — including airlines and the FAA — can improve and avoid a recurrence.

Representatives of Air Cargo Carriers said Friday morning they were aware of the crash but could not confirm the status of the crew.

A spokesman for UPS said the company also was aware of the crash, which involved a “small feeder aircraft carrying UPS packages,” but he did not have additional information about the carrier or condition of the aircraft or crew.

“As we attempt to learn more about the situation, we are keeping the crew ... in our heartfelt thoughts,” Jim Mayer, a public relations manager for UPS Airlines, said in an email.

The aircraft that crashed was a Short 330, which is a high-wing, twin-engine turbo-prop, Plante said.

The aircraft, with a cargo capacity of 3,500 pounds, can hold 15 to 30 people, when used as a passenger carrier, Plante said. It makes regular runs between Charleston and Louisville, he said.

With five Short 330s in its inventory, Air Cargo Carriers has the world’s largest fleet of the airplanes, according to the company’s website.

A total of 136 of the airplanes were built during a production run that ended in 1992, according to the aviation website Flight Global. As of 2014, only 12 of the aircraft, built in Northern Ireland, were still in use, including the five operated by Air Cargo Carriers.

At about 8 a.m. Friday, the Kanawha County Metro 911 Center reported to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection that aircraft fuel had been spilled in the crash. The report noted that the closest waterway was a small stream that feeds into the Elk River, and that the crash was on the Elk River side of the airport.

The Metro 911 supervisor who reported the incident to the DEP’s spill hotline said at the time that it was “unknown” if any of the fuel had reached the creek or the river.

“There shouldn’t be, because it’s on the hillside,” the supervisor said, according to audio of the telephone report that was released by the DEP shortly before 11 a.m. “It’s probably just pouring down into the ground.”

Shortly before 9:30 a.m., West Virginia American Water issued a statement saying it was monitoring the situation because of the location of its regional drinking water intake on the Elk River, downstream from the airport.

West Virginia American said its staff was taking water samples near the crash site but that monitors at the company’s treatment and distribution plant had “detected no changes in water quality.” The company said that, as a precaution, it had increased water treatment at the plant and deployed additional booms to block off the intake, in case any fuel entered the river.

Water company spokeswoman Laura Martin said later there was no indication that any fuel had reached any tributary of the Elk, and that the DEP was deploying additional spill containment further up the slope toward the crash site.

DEP spokesman Jake Glance said he did not know how much fuel was aboard the aircraft and did not provide an estimate of how much might have been spilled.

Sayre said crews were using absorbent pads and other measures to soak up the fuel.

“Our goal is not for any fuel to get into the stream,” he said.

Yeager’s lack of an EMAS-equipped safety-overrun area, because of its collapse in a March 2015 landslide, had no bearing on Friday’s crash, Plante said. The aircraft came down on the Charleston end of the runway, he said, where the EMAS bed had been placed to prevent aircraft departing or arriving from the Coonskin Park end from overshooting the runway. Most takeoffs begin from the Coonskin end of the runway because of prevailing westerly winds.

Seven investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Charleston late Friday afternoon. The NTSB plans to spend three or four days at the airport, sifting through the wreckage, reviewing airport security video and analyzing damage to the runway, said Bill English, who’s leading the investigation for the NTSB.

The pilot did not issue a distress call before the crash, English said.

“Our mission is to understand not just what happened, but why it happened and to recommend changes to prevent it from happening again,” English said. “We will not be determining the probable cause of the accident while we’re here on scene.”

English said he was unsure when the airport would reopen.

“We’ll be working as fast as we can, but right now I don’t want to promise any times,” he said. “There are some gouge marks on the runway, so they’ll need to refinish those.”

Lesleigh Barber, a West Virginia resident for 40 years, faced two delays Friday.

A mechanical issue delayed her original 5:15 a.m. flight from Yeager to Charlotte, North Carolina. She said travelers had filled half the passenger plane before the delay was announced. Then, her rescheduled flight was canceled by the crash.

“You’ve just got to roll with it,” Barber said. “Go with the flow.”

Staff writers Eric Eyre, Lori Kersey, Rick Steelhammer and Ken Ward Jr. contributed to this report.

Reach Giuseppe Sabella at giuseppe.sabella@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5189 or follow @Gsabella on Twitter.

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