Beechcraft's Wheels Snap Off during S.C. Emergency Landing

MONCKS CORNER - Two-thirds of a small plane's landing gear was torn off and some fuel was spilled Friday night as an aircraft made an emergency landing at the Berkeley County Airport.

"Amazingly, there were no injuries," Berkeley County Emergency Preparedness Director Tom Smith said Saturday. There were four people aboard the plane.

The single-engine Beechcraft Sierra, which a New Jersey family was flying to Florida for a vacation, made the emergency landing about 11:30 p.m. after the pilot reported serious electrical problems. The plane came down on grass 100 feet short of the runway, and after two wheels snapped off, it skidded onto the runway and slid another 100 feet, Berkeley County Airport Manager Kip Pratt said.

Pratt said the 19-year-old pilot, his parents and the pilot's girlfriend all emerged from the plane uninjured.

"They were very thankful no one was hurt," he said. "They realized it could have been much worse."

He identified the pilot as Fran Fitzpatrick and the passengers as Frank and Nancy Fitzpatrick and Danielle O'Neal. Only Fran's age was available.

The plane is registered in Brigantine, N.J., Pratt said.

Moncks Corner Rural and the Whitesville Rural fire departments and EMS personnel came to the airport, located a mile southwest of Moncks Corner. Firefighters put foam over some spilled fuel, but no one needed medical treatment, Smith and Pratt said.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control was notified of the spill, Pratt said.

He said the plane was headed to Clearwater, Fla., and expected to stop in Georgia for fuel. But somewhere over the Carolinas, an electrical malfunction that jeopardized pilot control and caused lights in the plane to flicker prompted the pilot to contact air traffic controllers in Charleston. It was decided they would land the plane at Moncks Corner, Pratt said.

The plane, Pratt said, hit the ground at an angle that put tremendous stress on the landing gear. The front wheel and its support, and one of the other two wheels and its support, both snapped off just after touchdown. The other wheel support crumpled under the plane.

Smith said the pilot had no control over the plane at the moment of landing.

"They lost power completely just before landing and so they just bellied in," he said.

Very early Saturday, the pilot and passengers were taken to Charleston International Airport, where they boarded a commercial flight and continued their journey to Clearwater, Pratt said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating, he said.

The airport remained closed until the wreckage could be removed from the runway about 2:30 a.m. Saturday. But Pratt said the airport had no landings or takeoffs scheduled during the hours it was closed.

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