Pilot taxied off runway in Great Barrington airport mishap

GREAT BARRINGTON — A pilot preparing to take off from Walter J. Koladza Airport on Sunday inadvertently taxied off the runway and into a neighbor's property, according to an airport official.

Mark Roggen, the airport's business manager told The Eagle on Tuesday that the pilot, for some reason, rolled "over the edge" of an embankment beyond the west end of the runway.

"It was a ground taxiing situation, where he did not pay attention to where he was going," he said.

The pilot and a passenger were not hurt, and there was minimal damage to the twin-engine Cessna 303, which was fully recovered Monday and is back up on the airport ramp, Roggen added.

"One of the metal props may need some work," he said.

In a preliminary report, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman James Peters told The Eagle he is waiting to hear from the FAA's Connecticut office to see whether the incident will be formally classified as an "accident." If it is, he said, the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate it.

About 5:30 p.m. Sunday, town police received a call for a reported "plane crash"; they sent emergency vehicles to the scene, and contacted state and federal transportation authorities.

The pilot and passenger, who Roggen said may have been the man's daughter, refused medical treatment. They have not been identified, and it unclear who the plane's owner is.

The Cessna, which was manufactured in 1984, is registered to a corporation, Pegasus Aviation in Wilmington, Del. The FAA registry shows a valid registration certificate that expires in Sept. 2019.

The two had flown in earlier from Republic Airport in East Farmingdale, N.Y., for a day of skiing at Catamount Ski Area in nearby Hillsdale, Roggen said, adding that they took the airport's courtesy car back to New York City.

The airport was temporarily closed after the incident, and an FAA investigator was at the site Monday.

Roggen said operations are back to normal at the airport, though with a winter storm coming and the runway not yet plowed, it will remain closed to regular air traffic for the time being, he added.

He could not say exactly why the pilot didn't see the edge of the runway, but he noted that snow flurries and possibly slippery conditions may have been a factor.

"I'm not clear whether there were braking problems," he added.

He also said twin propeller aircraft pose different visibility issues.

Roggen said he did not know whether the pilot had activated the lights at that end of the runway, or how much daylight he might have had at that hour with overcast skies and snow flurries. But more will be revealed after an investigation is complete.

"The FAA [investigator] went through the whole nine yards," Roggen said, and airport officials tested all the runway lights to make sure they were working.

He pointed to the airport as an essential service and economic driver in the area, and said this was a case of "somebody who wasn't totally watching where they were going."

"I feel that our staff handled this in a very professional way; the outcome was positive, no one was hurt and the aircraft was recovered," he said.

"It's like driving a car," he said. "The fellow was making all the decisions."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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