CASTLE, Calif. -- A pilot and his student are safe on the ground after a landing gear malfunction prevented them from landing at Castle Airport for more than an hour.
While the airplane circled the airport, a brief altercation also occurred between a member of the Merced County Sheriff's Department and a flight school maintenance technician.
Jim Price, operator for Gemeni Flight Support, said the right main landing gear of the plane, a four-seat Piper Arrow, apparently became jammed around 4 p.m.
After making two attempts to shake the jammed gear loose by bumping the plane against the runway, the pilot finally was able to land the aircraft on its nose and left landing gear in a grassy area about 50 feet away from the runway at 6:06 p.m.
Although there was minor damage done to the aircraft, both occupants of the plane were unharmed, according to Deputy Paul Barile, Merced County Sheriff's Department spokesman.
Price said the plane also landed without catching on fire, although several fire engines and an ambulance were on standby at the airport throughout the duration of the ordeal.
The pilot and his student belonged to American School of Aviation, a flight school based at the former Air Force base.
Those who witnessed the incident credited the experience of the pilot and the airport tower's personnel for bringing the plane down safely.
"The pilot did as well as anybody putting that wheel down," said Stan Thurston, president of Gemeni Flight Support.
"This is exactly why having an active (airport) tower is important to Merced County," said Mark Hendrickson, Merced County director of governmental affairs. "They helped prevent a potential catastrophe."
Prince Singh, president of American School of Aviation, refused to provide the names of the pilot and his student, saying that he preferred to keep them confidential.
While the airplane was circling the airport, at approximately 5:30 p.m. a maintenance technician for American School of Aviation was shot with a Taser by a member of the sheriff's department, according to Barile.
Barile said Lupe Gonzalez, 47, was tased by a member of the sheriff's department after he became belligerent -- a charge Gonzalez and members of ASA staunchly deny.
Barile said Gonzalez and other members of the flight school wanted to drive a truck on the runway and position it underneath the plane to pull the jammed landing gear from the plane with a hook-type device.
Airport officials told Gonzalez and flight school staff, according to Barile, not to perform such a maneuver, saying that it was too dangerous, Barile said.
"They told him not to and he told the sheriff (deputy) that he was going out there regardless," Barile said.
Barile said the deputy then tased Gonzalez and arrested him for obstruction, which is considered a misdemeanor.
Gonzalez was released shortly thereafter, Barile said.
While Gonzalez acknowledged that he wanted to position a truck under the airplane to remove the jammed landing gear, he said he was never violent toward the deputy and did not threaten him.
"I'm walking away from the confrontation with the guy and I get tased," Gonzelez said.
"My only concern was the guy in the air, I made that clear to them," he added.
Singh said he is so upset about the Taser, which he considered to be excessive force, that he is considering filing a lawsuit against the sheriff's department.
"He wasn't violent. He wasn't going anywhere," Singh said.
Singh also said the airplane and truck maneuver is not unheard of -- and said he and his staff were only thinking of his pilot's safety.
Mark Canlas, an ASA flight instructor who witnessed the tasing, said he also believes it was unnecessary, and took digital photos of the confrontation on his cell phone.
"He did not break any law. Basically this (deputy) was on a power trip," Canlas said. "It was all a verbal exchange. This event could have been easily prevented."
"In my opinion, it was justified," Thurston said, in regards to the tasing.
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