Plane lands hard at Suffolk Airport

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 9, 2005

For the first half of George Niemann’s trip up the East Coast Saturday evening, everything was fine.

Niemann, 56, was piloting his twin-engine 1973 Baron Beechcraft from his summer home in Fort Lauderdale up to Maine. Just before 8 p.m., he began to land at Suffolk Executive Airport to refuel.

Before landing, Niemann called airport technician Wesley White in the office for an airport advisory.

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&uot;I gave him wind speed and direction and told him what runway he should use,&uot; White said

Suddenly, everything went near-tragically wrong.

&uot;I just had total electrical failure,&uot; said Niemann, a 35-year flying veteran. &uot;Everything went off.&uot;

Niemann said he reached behind him to the plane’s gear switch, trying to crank it back up. But it didn’t work, then the landing gear wouldn’t come down. He tried to call White, but his radio was dead.

Niemann brought the plane down in the grassy area behind a runway in the airport, near the woods, suffering only scratches on his arm. White said he hadn’t known anything was wrong until the pilot walked in the door to the office and told him about the incident

&uot;Fortunately, I went through the emergency procedures,&uot; Niemann said, waiting near the airport restaurant as the state and local police investigated the incident Saturday night. &uot;I actually had an uneventful landing.&uot;

The Federal Aviation Administration ground crew came out on Monday to further investigate, taking some photos and measurements.

Investigators said that an antenna and propeller were damaged in the crash.

Niemann, who was picked up by a friend who flew in on Sunday, said that it was his first accident.

White said that it was the first he’d seen in three years at the airport.

&uot;We have a very set procedure (for crashes and incidents),&uot; said airport manager Kent Marshall. &uot;The first thing to do is to determine whether you have a fire, which we fortunately didn’t in this case. The second is to call the police, and the third is to call the FAA Incident Hotline.

&uot;Then, you just lend any assistance you can to the pilot and passengers,&uot; Marshall said. &uot;In this case, the pilot was alone. If something like this had to happen, it couldn’t have come out better than it did. The aircraft didn’t tear itself apart.&uot;

Roger Leonard, who runs the nearby Cardinals Pilot Shop, said he hoped the incident would entice the city to place a maintaience facility at the airport.

&uot;We don’t have any maintenance at all on the field, so if you have a flat tire or a plane crash, there’s no service,&uot; Leonard said. &uot;I’ve offered to run a seven-day, 24-hour facility, and the city’s just run me round and round.

&uot;An episode like this proves just how important it is to have a service center. There’s no one at the airport, except the people at the restaurant who sell sandwiches and console you. I just think it points out just how short-sighted city has been to have an airport that has no service.&uot;

That might change soon, Marshall said.

&uot;We are attempting to attract several businesses to come out and put a (maintenance) franchise on our infrastructure,&uot; he said. &uot;There are two, possibly three, firms that have expressed interest in moving to the Suffolk airport, but unfortunately right now, we don’t have a building to put them in.&uot;