Plane emergencies have varied causes, Centennial Airport says

Busy airport has had scattering of reported events in recent years


When two planes collided in midair over the Cherry Creek State Park area near a neighborhood just north of Centennial, one plane deployed a parachute and came down in an open field.

The second plane continued to fly, making it safely to Centennial Airport. Both planes came to earth with no injuries.

It wasn't clear from public safety agencies how close to the nearby residential area the collision or the first plane's landing occurred.

Initial information indicated the planes collided May 12 over state park property near where Belleview Avenue meets Peoria Street in unincorporated Arapahoe County, according to tweets from South Metro Fire Rescue. The fire agency did not immediately respond for comment May 21 about how close to the neighborhood the first plane landed.

At least several aircraft incidents or accidents in the Centennial Airport area have made local headlines in recent years. The airport says the way planes land or depart is generally overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, and says that whether a plane lands safely depends largely on the pilot.

“The FAA mandates that pilots undergo extensive — and recurring — training, particularly in aircraft emergency procedures,” said Deborah Grigsby Smith, spokesperson for Centennial Airport. “Pilots are taught to seek out open fields and other sparsely populated areas in which to land should they be unable to land at an airport.”

Crashes, accidents over years

Centennial Airport, one of the busiest general aviation airports in the nation, sees roughly 340,000 takeoffs and landings each year, on average — or about 930 takeoffs and landings per day, according to the airport.

“General aviation” means the airport features flight training and medical evacuation, corporate charter, small cargo, and recreational flights, among other uses. But commercial airline flights, like those on United or Southwest airlines, for example, are not part of the mix.

The airport is not located in the City of Centennial, which was formed long after the airport, in 2001. The airport sits at 7800 S. Peoria St., just south of Arapahoe Road.

In recent years, Centennial Airport had 15 on-airport “incidents” — which are less serious and can involve minor damage to aircraft and minor or no injuries — and six on-airport “accidents,” which are more serious and can involve substantial damage to the aircraft and serious injuries, according to FAA and National Transportation Safety Board records, Grigsby Smith said. That data ran from January 2017 through May 1 of this year, she said.

The May 12 incident is the only midair collision Centennial Airport has had in that time, Grigsby Smith said.

The airport has seen a handful of emergencies that involved crashes or landings in the broader area around the airport in those years, according to Grigsby Smith. Some of those cases:

• May 11, 2018 — A Cirrus SR-22, departing Centennial Airport to the south, went down in an open field near Lone Tree. The aircraft's engine traveled from the impact area and was found lodged in the side of a house. The only person on board was the pilot, who died as a result of the crash. No other injuries were reported.

• Feb. 18, 2017 — A Piper Arrow, departing Centennial Airport to the south, clipped a tree on takeoff and landed in a parking lot south of the airport at Peoria Street and Belford Avenue. Of the two persons on board, one sustained serious injury and the other minor injury. No damage to any structures was reported.

• Oct. 26, 2018 — A small plane made a “hard landing” in an open field in Lone Tree. Neither of the two people on board nor anyone on the ground was injured, according to South Metro Fire Rescue. The plane left Centennial Airport and shortly after went down in a field south of Lincoln Avenue and east of Havana Street.

FAA staffs air traffic control

The responsibility of guiding planes near Centennial Airport falls to the FAA, according to the airport.

“Centennial Airport is the only general aviation airport in the state that has 24/7 FAA-staffed air traffic control,” Grigsby Smith said. She added: “We have some of the best air traffic controllers in the region, and they are an important part of the overall safety picture.”

Causes can vary for “emergency landings,” Grigsby Smith said, using a term that doesn't necessarily mean a crash.

“For example, a pilot might make an emergency landing at an airport because a passenger may have become ill during the flight or needs emergency medical attention,” Grigsby Smith said.

One of the most important safety elements in terms of avoiding crashes is “the skill and training of the pilot,” Grigsby Smith added. “The pilot plays the most important role in safety and control of the aircraft.”

Airport can't control development

Residential and commercial developments abound near Centennial Airport and the paths leading to or from it, but the airport has no authority to regulate land it does not own, Grigsby Smith said. The airport opened in May 1968.

“Over the years, Centennial Airport has taken a very active role to connect with and educate surrounding jurisdictions on land use,” Grigsby Smith said. “We strive to inform the public and surrounding jurisdictions regarding the airport's proximity, activity and potential for any compatibility problems before development begins.”

Centennial Airport is a referral agency for both Arapahoe and Douglas counties, and surrounding jurisdictions, meaning that any proposed developments within the “airport influence area” must be referred to the airport for comment. The influence area is roughly bounded by Belleview Avenue, Yosemite Street, Parker Road and a line south of Lincoln Avenue on the south end.

Many neighborhoods and homeowners' associations around the airport have “avigation” agreements where the homeowner acknowledges in writing that the property is near the airport and within the airport influence area, Grigsby Smith said.

“While the airport may make recommendations to local jurisdictions regarding proposed developments, the decision to approve development near the airport rests with the approving jurisdiction,” Grigsby Smith said.

Centennial Colorado, airport, plane crash, collision, midair, Arapahoe County, Ellis Arnold


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