Gusty wind apparently forced an airplane taking off from Wiscasset Municipal Airport Sunday back down and into the snow near the runway, interim airport manager Rick Tetrev said.
Longtime pilot Charlie Gabelmann, the ultralight plane’s lone occupant, was not hurt, Tetrev said in a phone interview Sunday evening. He described Gabelmann as shaken up after the accident, which Tetrev said cracked the plane in half. The plane was later hauled to Gabelmann’s hangar at the airport, Tetrev said.
Tetrev was called to the airport. Wiscasset Airport Advisory Committee Chairman Steve Williams called the Portland tower to alert the Federal Aviation Administration, Tetrev said. Williams confirmed he did and said he believed Wiscasset police did, as well.
Williams, a pilot, said in a phone interview, he arrived at the airport shortly after the incident on other business. He hadn’t heard about the accident; when he got there and saw an emergency vehicle, he thought it might be there for a Lifelight transport. Then he saw police cruisers and the aircraft. By then Gabelmann was in a truck that was being set up to haul the aircraft, Willliams said.
Despite the damage to the plane, he was not surprised the pilot was unhurt because the cockpit was intact, Williams said. He also was not surprised about the damage, for two reasons: The plane was an ultralight and the snow near the runway didn’t allow the plane to roll as it might have on grass, he said.
The FAA barred all aircraft from landing in Wiscasset, Tetrev said. The ban was later lifted and access to the runway returned to normal, he said.
The FAA did not respond to the scene, he said. He expects it will as part of the investigation.
Asked about the incident’s handling, Tetrev said, between the professionalism of pilots and the town’s response with emergency crews, “It was marvelous. It went smoothly, like clockwork, and that’s how it’s supposed to go.”
The response was stellar, Williams said.
Wiscasset Fire Chief T.J. Merry said the department was dispatched to the airport shortly after 3 p.m. and checked to make sure the craft was not at risk of catching fire; fuel did not leak from the aircraft, Merry said. No ambulance was called to the scene because it was known there were no injuries, he said.
Williams said Gabelmann is a certified flight instructor and an excellent pilot. “He’s very safe and takes extensive retraining,” Williams said.