Trusted local news leader for Williams AZ and the Grand Canyon
Tue, Sept. 21

Near miss at airport labeled as a miracle<br>

This Piper aircraft rests peacefully after an un-successful take-off at the Williams Airport that resulted in a non-injury crash.

“It could have been disastrous,” said Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeffrey Gastineau who responded to the scene while the Williams Police Department was already on another call.

Pilot Robert Christman — 54, of Loma Linda, Calif. — and his wife, Glenda, were preparing for take off with their parents in the back seat of their single-engine Piper aircraft after having visited the Grand Canyon.

The plane failed to start properly, so both pilot and wife got out to manually turn the propeller. The manual start was successful, but Christman failed to turn off the master switch before doing so, causing the plane — parked at the south end of the airport near the main terminal — to begin rolling northward.

With two 80-year-old relatives strapped into the back seats, the plane gained speeds of 50 miles per hour and continued north, narrowly missing two large commuter planes and going right in between them.

“I’ve never seen a plane take off like that and go that straight,” said George Barendse, airport/terminal manager.

Those involved are lucky it did. Only moments before the incident, nearly 75 passengers were gathered around the larger commuter planes waiting to catch a bus. They had all just gotten into the terminal when the Piper sped forward.

After passing between the commuter planes, the Piper crossed a short section of ground and caught its right wing on a pile of junk and heavy materials left outside the back of the small hangar closest to the terminal and adjacent to the current fixed-base operations building.

The junk pile slowed the plane down, causing it to strike a horse trailer behind the materials before it came to a stop.

No serious injuries were reported, aside from the pilot who had to be treated for a laceration on the back of the head.

“This is an accident that happened that should have taught a lot of people a good lesson,” Barendse said, adding that he had commented to some on the scene that if they didn’t believe in miracles before, they should now.

The pilot and his passengers/family chose to drive home after the incident.

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