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Pilot practicing night landings narrowly misses impact with Yeager hillside

A pilot practicing touch-and-go night landings at Yeager Airport late Wednesday crashed his plane and survived with no serious injuries.

Ralph S. Smith Jr.’s single-engine aircraft struck the end of Yeager’s recently installed EMAS bed, shearing off the nose gear. Airport officials said Smith, the owner and pilot of the 1966 Cessna 182J, was in the process of making the first of three planned touch-and-go landings as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s night flight recertification process when the 11:25 p.m. accident occurred.

The aircraft scraped the lowest of two stairstepping tiers of blocks below the surface level of the EMAS bed at the very end of the safety structure, ripping off the nose gear assembly. The aircraft then apparently slewed to the right, slid on its belly, and came to a nose-down stop.

Archie Walker, of Yeager Airport’s operations staff, was the first to reach the crash site, and helped Smith exit the Cessna. Yeager officials said Smith was bleeding from a nose injury but declined medical attention. Smith, a Charleston psychiatrist, also serves as an FAA flight medical examiner.

Airport officials said Smith touched down more than 1,000 feet short of the verge of Runway 5’s designated landing area. The EMAS area is marked to be avoided except by aircraft overshooting takeoffs or landings originating from the Coonskin Park end of the runway.

The Cessna was removed from the EMAS area by a crane-equipped Copley wrecker and taken to a hangar. An FAA investigator was at the scene of the crash late Wednesday and early Thursday.

Airport Assistant Director Nick Keller said representatives from the company that manufactures the EMAS blocks used at Yeager would soon arrive at the airport to assess damage and recommend a repair plan.

A deep gouge and surface scraping of the EMAS bed caused by the crash should not affect the safety feature’s ability to bring a passenger jet or other aircraft routinely using the Charleston airport to a safe stop, Keller said.

Had the Cessna touched down at an elevation a foot or more lower than it did, the outcome of the Wednesday night incident likely would have been deadly, Keller said.

“It’s another argument for having standard [1,000-foot] safety areas at the ends of the runways,” as Yeager is seeking funding to build, said Dominique Ranieri, marketing director for the Charleston airport. “That area would have been grass, instead of an EMAS bed.”

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

Funerals for Saturday, September 21, 2019

Abodeely, Malakee - 11 a.m., St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Charleston. 

Ayers, Helen - 11 a.m., Belcher Family Cemetery, Pinch Ridge.

Backus, Ernest - 2 p.m., First Baptist Church of Rainelle.

Bailey, Jerry - 5 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Carney Jr., Chester - 2 p.m., Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Carter, Blanche - 11 a.m., Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, North Elkview.

Copen, Louise - Noon, McRoss Baptist Church, McRoss.

Fizer, Donna - 3 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Fowler, Jeannette - 1 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Evans.

Goard II, Mitchell - 5 p.m., Central Community Tabernacle, Charleston.

Hammack, Barbara - 2 p.m., Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, Cross Lanes.

Kessinger, Wilma - 4 p.m., Canaan Baptist Church, Charleston.

Knight II, James - 6 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Evans.

Lymon, Daniel - 1 p.m., Grace Bible Church, Charleston.

McKown, Travis - Noon, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Wallback.

Miller, Alexander - 4 p.m., Roane County High School, Spencer.

Mitchell, Emma - 2 p.m., Calvary Baptist Church, Hurricane.

Montgomery, Betty - 11 a.m., Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Charleston.

Pfeil, Ruth - 2 p.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home Chapel, Poca.

Roush III, George - 12:30 p.m., Tyler Mountain Funeral Home, Cross Lanes.

Samuels, Hazel - 1:30 p.m., Dunbar Kingdom Hall, Dunbar.

Slonaker II, Harvey - Noon, Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.

Starks, Henry - 11 a.m., Lantz Funeral Home, Buckeye.

Stooke, David - Noon, Henson & Kitchen Mortuary, Huntington.

Thompson, Thomas - 2 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.

White, Duane - 1 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

White, James - 1 p.m., Cedar Grove Middle School, Cedar Grove.

Woodson Jr., Lewis - 1 p.m., Abundant Life Ministries, Charleston.