By Martin Kidston
If you were flying into Missoula on the afternoon of Oct. 13 and got diverted from Salt Lake City into Helena or back to Seattle, here’s the reason why.
Cris Jensen, director of Missoula International Airport, said that at 4:30 p.m., the airport staged for an emergency landing after a twin-prop Sherpa reported a faulty gear indication.
With the airport’s air rescue and firefighting crews staged, the aircraft made several passes over the airfield so ground crews could verify that all three landing gear were down.
“The plane landed, rolled out and the nose gear collapsed,” said Jensen. “The aircraft skidded to a halt.”
With the aircraft sitting in the middle of the runway, Jensen said the airport closed the airfield for roughly 90 minutes.
An inbound Horizon flight from Seattle was diverted back to Seattle, where it was ultimately canceled due to weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest.
“We also had an inbound Delta flight out of Salt Lake that ended up diverting to Helena, then came into Missoula later that evening,” Jensen said. “We had a United flight that was delayed on the ground in Denver until we could move the (Sherpa).”
Jensen described the Sherpa as a twin-engine prop, one the U.S. Forest Service recently acquired from the military and is working to convert for Forest Service use. It was fresh out of the paint shop when the mishap occurred.
Neither of the two pilots was injured.
“Needless to say, it’s going back to the paint shop,” Jensen said.
While Missoula International Airport has a crossing runway, it measures only 4,612 feet long and 75 feet wide, making it too small for commercial airlines. Jensen said several smaller aircraft took off from the crossing runway while the main runway was closed.
Jensen praised the airport’s staff for its response.
“Our staff did an amazing job,” he said. “It was kind of an intense time. We had the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration running around, and you have the flight crew, and the airlines are wondering what’s going on, so you had a lot of things happening at the same time.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org