Sheriff: Safe landing result of instruction

Published 11:59 pm Monday, February 9, 2009

Sheriff Dennis Meeks credited the instruction he’s received in the last four months of flight training for his being able to land a plane safely Saturday after the landing gear malfunctioned.

Meeks, who is within 25 hours of earning his pilot’s license, said the incident was his first cross-country flight, in which was required to fly solo within 50 nautical miles of the South Alabama Regional Airport.

Airport administrator Jed Blackwell told The Star-News Saturday night that the sheriff was flying a plane used for training pilots when the plane’s landing gear malfunctioned. He said Meeks pulled up, circled the airport, and landed the aircraft on its stomach.

“It wasn’t a full crash,” Blackwell said.

But it was enough of an incident to temporarily close the runway at SARA.

Blackwell said proper procedures were followed and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was called. Based on Blackwell’s recommendation, the FAA allowed the SARA to clear the site. The South Alabama Regional Airport closed the runway and the fire department cleared the debris before the FAA gave SARA permission to reopen the runway.

Meeks said, “My instructor did a very good job in the last four months of training me. He also did a tremendous job that day. He was on the ground and was able to give me additional instruction on how to land in those circumstances.”

No one was injured in the incident.

The Andalusia Police Department, Andalusia Fire Department, Advanced EMS, Covington County Sheriff’s Department, and other rescue agencies responded to the incident.

There was some damage to the plane, which was insured, Blackwell said. There also was some damage to some runway lights.

Meeks was not flying the Ximango Power Glider recently donated to the sheriff’s office by the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, who originally obtained the plane from the U.S. Air Force.