Calif. Airport Neighbors Cite Increased Traffic; Call Fatal Crash No Surprise

For some residents near Gillespie Field, Wednesday's plane crash confirmed their worst fears. For others, it was simply a tragic accident.

Some complain that air traffic over their homes has increased significantly over the years, and that pilots sometimes flout the rules. There are too many planes and helicopters, they say. They fly too low and they're too loud.

"All of us have voiced the opinion that there's going to be a crash here. Somebody's going to be killed. And yesterday, that happened," said Gregory Reynolds, a La Mesa resident who snapped a picture of the collision, which killed three people.

Reynolds, 65, a retired Navy chief petty officer, has lived on Joel Lane for nearly 24 years. He said he now sees more planes than ever.

The number of takeoffs and landings at Gillespie Field has in fact jumped. There were 244,475 takeoffs and landings last year, compared with 187,751 in 2000.

But the number of complaints about noise and low-flying aircraft has fluctuated. Bill Polick, county airports spokesman, said the majority often come from one person.

Last month, 150 complaints were lodged with the county, but 140 of them came from the same person. Forty-eight of 52 complaints in December came from that person, as did 108 of 122 in November.

The county operates Gillespie Field and is responsible for the infrastructure. It enforces rules on the ground. Once an airplane leaves the runway, the Federal Aviation Administration takes over.

But the pilot is the final authority, Polick said, adding, "They have the ultimate control over the aircraft."

Other residents have few complaints. Noise and air traffic are the reality of living near an airport, they say.

"It's just part of the background of modern life," said Gerry Seifert, whose house was damaged by the crash debris.

Harvey Carrick, 67, a former amateur pilot from El Cajon's Fletcher Hills area, hasn't noticed a change in the elevation or number of planes.

"I'm not bothered by it, but I like airplanes," he said.

Carrick said he stopped flying in the early 1970s after a series of fatal plane crashes in the San Diego area.

A spokesman for the FAA said the agency looks into every grievance, but some homeowners feel they're getting the brushoff.

"It's like everybody points you to somebody else," said Carolyn Anderson, who lives off Pepper Drive in El Cajon.

Anderson said her neighborhood was bombarded with the whir of helicopter blades when a school opened at Gillespie in 2004. After months of complaints to county officials, the traffic has died down, she said.

Anderson worries that air traffic will increase further when the county develops the site of the former Cajon Speedway, a 70-acre parcel at the airport.

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