The Star-Herald

Presque Isle airport still closed to passenger flights as probe into accident continues

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — While non-passenger flights have resumed, it is still not known when Presque Isle International Airport will again be open to passenger flights after a plane was damaged during a landing at the airport Monday.

On Monday morning, around 11:30 a.m. a 50-seat Embraer 145 jet operated by CommuteAir slid off the runway at Presque Isle International Airport, leaving several people with minor injuries and damaging the plane.

Of the 28 passengers and 4 crew members on board, four passengers and the pilot were taken to the hospital with minor injuries, according to Kim Smith, Presque Isle public information officer.

The plane, which was carrying the passengers for United Airlines, was making its second attempt at landing when it went off the runway. Damage to the plane included its nose and undercarriage.

Rick and Cassie Daigle, owners of Too Far North Fitness in Fort Kent, were on this United flight that ended up off the runway at the airport in Presque Isle on Monday morning. Cassie Daigle took this photo inside the plane shortly after it stopped. Rick Daigle said the scene inside the airplane as it landed was one of chaos with people screaming and seat parts popping off.

Rick Daigle and Cassie Daigle, owners of Too Far North Fitness in Fort Kent, were on the flight returning from Columbus, Ohio. Rick Daigle said that when the plane landed “the first impact was hard and violent.”

He said the plane then bounced four or five times before coming to a stop at a location far from the runway.

“The plane literally is nowhere near the actual runway,” he said, adding that snowplows had to remove snow so that emergency responders could get to the plane to help the injured passengers.

The scene inside the airplane as it landed was one of chaos with people screaming and seats coming apart, Daigle said.

Representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.

On Tuesday, airport officials said that non-passenger flight operations resumed, but did not have a timeline for when passenger flights would resume.

Charles Hobart, a spokesperson for United Airlines, said the company has a “waiver in place for customers scheduled to travel to or from” Presque Isle between March 4 and March 11.

Under this offer, posted on United’s travel notices page, change fees and differences in fare will be waived for new United flights departing between March 4 and April 1 between the same cities. The waiver also states that for rescheduled travel departing after April 1, the change fee will be waived but a difference in fare may apply.

Empty seats at the Presque Isle International Airport on Friday, March 8, reflect the airport remaining closed to passenger flights since March 5 when United Airlines plane went off the runway while landing. Federal officials continue to investigate and it is unclear when flights will resume.
(Staff photo/Melissa Lizotte)

Since July 2018, United has operated Presque Isle’s only passenger air service with daily flights to and from Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. The United service replaced PenAir’s service to Boston under the federal Essential Air Services program that subsidizes air travel in rural communities.

With record amounts of snow and new federal regulations for ice and snow on runways, this winter has been a challenging one at the Presque Isle International Airport. During the week of Jan. 20, for instance, multiple flights were delayed and cancelled, and an arriving plane on Thursday, Jan. 24, turned around and went back to Newark after trying unsuccessfully to land in Presque Isle during rainy, foggy weather. The next day United flew Presque Isle-bound passengers to Bangor and chartered them a bus to Presque Isle, while also transporting fliers from Presque Isle to Bangor.

Terry Williams, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the agency will likely have a preliminary report on the incident released in seven to 10 days, although this will not have an analysis or a determination of cause.

“The investigation itself will take approximately a year” and a full report will be issued after that, Williams said.

The NTSB was established in 1967 to conduct independent investigations of all civil aviation accidents and other major transportation accidents in the U.S., according to the agency’s website. The NTSB does not have regulatory or enforcement powers, but focuses on fact-finding and improving transportation safety.

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