Blackwelder: Plane crash never happened

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By Chris Sardelli

An urgent 911 call about a possible airplane in trouble Tuesday, April 9, turned out to be a standard training routine, according to local fire officials.

Lancaster County Fire Marshal Stephen Blackwelder said reports of a plane in distress or a downed airplane in the northern end of the county were simply a misunderstanding. The calls were received Tuesday afternoon and emergency crews spent several hours searching for a possible crash site.

“It turns out it was absolutely nothing,” Blackwelder said. “The plane crash never happened.” 

After further investigation, emergency responders learned a person on the ground heard strange noises coming from a plane overhead, Blackwelder said.

“There was someone who heard stuff on the ground that didn’t sound exactly right and then we chased our tail a little bit to find out what happened,” he said.

The strange noises instead were a training exercise.

“We believe they were doing some sort of training with a new pilot where you lean on the engine too rich and it hops, skips and stutters,” he said. “They were just training the pilot over Steele Hill, which is not very populated. There was no emergency whatsoever.”

Steele Hill Road intersects with U.S. 521 near the county’s Panhandle.

He said the procedure tests a pilot’s ability to go through a series of in-flight checks and restart the engine.

In talking with Federal Aviation Administration officials and Lancaster County Airport official Paul Moses, Blackwelder said the plane in question was possibly being flown from the JAARS Center in Waxhaw, N.C., though that wasn’t confirmed by Tuesday afternoon.

Originally formed as the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service in 1948, JAARS is now a non-profit organization providing Bible translation support for other organizations. JAARS runs several aviation programs from its Waxhaw center, flying planes and helicopters to various locations around the world. 

Its headquarters is just over the state line in Union County, N.C.

Blackwelder and several firefighters were at a brush fire in the Antioch community when the call came in, so other officials responded to the county’s Panhandle.

“They went to make sure things were not as bad as it sounded,” he said.

The response team included two volunteer fire departments, a rescue squad and the county’s Emergency Medical Services.

“They searched the area and found where the cell call originated and talked to the person firsthand and he said where he’d seen it,” Blackwelder said.

At first, responders thought they were searching for a crop duster, though Blackwelder said that was not the case. The search was eventually called off and Blackwelder said there was never any danger to people on the ground.

“(The pilot) had control over the plane the entire time,” he said.


 Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416