By MAURY THOMPSON
QUEENSBURY - Deer on the runway are being blamed for the crash landing of a chartered jet as it landed Friday night at Floyd D. Bennett-Warren County Airport.
The plane, owned by a Wisconsin-based charter service, was carrying four executives of SCA Tissue enroute to Queensbury from a business meeting in New York City, company officials said.
Neither the passengers nor two crew members were hurt, officials said. SCA owns tissue paper plants in South Glens Falls and Greenwich.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the accident, which it is calling an "incident," as opposed to an accident, an FAA spokeswoman said.
The crash landing comes amidst a controversy over an 8-mile-long fence that was being built around the airport to prevent wildlife and people from wandering onto runways. Work on the nearly finished $800,000 project was halted in August because of a dispute between Warren County and the contractor who was building the fence.
The owner of the aircraft and an FAA spokeswoman both said Monday that the jet's nose wheel, a landing apparatus, was damaged as it landed on the airport's No. 1 runway late Friday.
The plane was operated by Heartland Aviation Inc. of Eau Claire, Wis. The company has no connection with a charter service that began operating at the local airport this summer.
Jeff Gusui, the president of Heartland Aviation, said the plane landed hard after the pilot swerved to avoid hitting "some deer" that had wandered onto the runway.
A preliminary report released Monday by the FAA also attributed the incident to "an animal on the runway," although FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said the incident is still under investigation.
But John Kvocka, an SCA official who was a passenger on the aircraft, said he and his colleagues aboard the plane did not see a deer. He said the pilot was descending at an unusually high rate of speed, and the landing gear collapsed when the plane hit the ground prematurely.
Gusui, however, denied that the landing gear had collapsed. He said the aircraft sustained only "minor damage" that was repaired in time for the aircraft to return to Wisconsin by Monday.
Kvocka said he became suspicious when an FAA report, posted Monday afternoon on the Internet, described the crash as occurring during an "aborted takeoff."
Salac, the FAA spokeswoman, said the description of the crash happening during a takeoff, rather than as the plane landed, was apparently due to a transcription error. She said her copy of the preliminary report states that the crash occurred while the aircraft was landing.
Kvocka questioned why no local police agencies had investigated the incident, despite a 911 call he made from his cellular telephone at the scene Friday night.
Cellular phone calls to 911 normally are routed to state police. A state police dispatcher in Wilton said Monday he was aware of the incident but that state police did not investigate it. The dispatcher said the state police, if they did receive a 911 call from the airport, would have referred the information to a local police department.
Officers with Glens Falls Police and the Warren County Sheriff's Department said Monday they were not aware of the incident.
Several members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors also said Monday they were not aware of the incident.
Efforts to contact Airport Manager Marshall Stevens were unsuccessful late Monday.