All involved survive mid-air crash
A cheer went up at the Minden-Tahoe Airport on Monday evening when searchers learned a glider pilot was found alive after bailing out over the Pine Nut Mountains following a collision with a commercial jet.
An executive jet descending to Reno collided Monday afternoon with a glider southeast of Carson City, causing the plane to make an emergency landing without its wheels at the Carson City Airport.
Douglas County Sheriff’s search-and-rescue team members found the unnamed glider pilot at about 6:45 p.m., nearly three hours after the collision.
Lyon County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Page said the pilot was found at the mouth of Lone Pine Canyon after searchers found a parachute and harness nearby.
“He has no apparent injuries, but they will take him to get checked out,” said Page. “He hit a jet at 300 knots and had the presence of mind to bail out. He is a very lucky man.”
The pilot of the Hawker 800XP jet was transported by ambulance to Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center with minor injuries after landing the plane belly down at the airport on the west-facing runway at about 3:30 p.m., said Lt. Ray Saylo of the Carson City Sheriff’s Department.
Part of the right wing was missing, and an engine was blown out. A piece of the glider was sticking out of the front windshield. Despite the extensive damage, the co-pilot and three passengers were uninjured.
“I did some deep breathing and said a few prayers,” said Evy Chipman, of Lake Tahoe, who was traveling with her husband, Mike Chipman.
“Though I was aware of the damage to the wing, there wasn’t much I could do,” he said. “The pilots clearly had it under control, but it certainly had my attention.”
Passenger Steve DiZio, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., said the landing was smooth, despite coming in without wheels.
“We were about 13,000 feet up when I heard the explosion,” he said. “I was sitting in the rear left of the airplane and the window straight across from me shattered and blew out, and the (oxygen) masks came down. We put them on, and the plane went into a steep dive and right away turned almost into a roll. Then they recovered it. It was a normal landing, except with the wheels up.”
Airport officials praised the difficult landing. Pilot Annette Saunders was flying from Carlsbad Airport in San Diego to Reno.
“They did a beautiful job of landing, that’s all I can tell you,” said Collie Hutter, airport authority board member. “Our main concern now is that everyone is notified and to make sure we can clear (the airplane).”
A notice to pilots about the blocked runway was broadcast after the plane landed, said airport manager Yvon Weaver.
“We have debris along the runway, which we will clean off with a city sweeper, and we have a crane standing by to move (the plane) off the runway,” she said.
The mid-air collision knocked the cockpit instruments out of the panel and nearly into the lap of the pilot, said Steve Lewis, owner of Sterling Air. He said the plane skid on its belly for about 3,000 feet.
“She did a great job of landing,” Lewis said.
Co-pilot Mitchell Merchant later checked himself into the hospital, Saylo said. Several planes were diverted to the Reno, Silver Springs, Minden or Dayton airports.
The Carson City Airport manager said the airport will likely reopen by this morning.
An official with NetJets, which provides part ownership of aircraft to executives, was on his way to the airport Monday night, Weaver said. He will direct movement of the aircraft to prevent further damage. She said it will be stored at the El Aero hangar.
“The minute we have the aircraft off the runway and all the debris, the airport will reopen,” Weaver said.
Flight student Cory Miller and instructor Cody Greener, both of Carson City, were in the air west of Reno when they heard the jet’s distress call. The National Pilot Academy flies out of Carson City, so they were forced to land their Cessna in Dayton, then get a ride back to the Carson City airport.
They heard the co-pilot report that the jet had structural damage and did not have electronics.
“You could definitely hear the distress in (the co-pilot’s) voice,” Greener said. “Anyone in aviation who hears that – your heart just stops.”
– Kurt Hildebrand at The Record-Courier contributed to this report.