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On April 23, 2010, about 2245 Eastern Daylight Time, a Piper PA-46-350P Mirage, N364ST, was substantially damaged when it struck several deer during the takeoff roll on runway 7 at Oconee County Regional Airport (CEU), Clemson, South Carolina. The certificated private pilot was not injured. The flight was operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. Visual night meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight plan was filed for the business flight.
According to the owner/pilot, the airplane was based at Smith Reynolds Airport (INT), Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The day before the accident, the pilot flew from INT to CEU, and returned to INT that night. Both flights were uneventful. The day of the accident, he again flew the airplane from INT to CEU. For the night return trip to INT, the pilot conducted a preflight inspection after dark, and did not detect any anomalies. He started the engine about 2240, and then listened to the CEU Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS) broadcast for airport conditions. The ASOS information favored runway 7, and did not include mention of deer or other wildlife activity. The pilot activated the airport lighting, and taxied to the runup area for runway 7. He stated that he had the two wingtip taxi lights illuminated for the taxi-out and engine runup, and that the runup was conducted with the airplane "angled to see possible approaching aircraft."
The pilot planned to obtain his air traffic control clearance once he was airborne. He turned on the landing light, which was mounted on the nose landing gear, and took the runway for takeoff. He applied full power and released the brakes. When the airplane was at a speed that the pilot estimated to be between 50 and 65 knots, the pilot saw approximately four to six "brown animals" traveling from left to right across the airplane's path. He felt a thump on the airplane's left wing and "instinctively pulled back" on the control column to avoid additional impacts.
The airplane became airborne; the pilot felt another collision on the lower front engine area and he "pulled harder on the yoke." With the airplane in a nose-high attitude, the pilot noticed that the stall warning horn was sounding and that the airspeed was decreasing. In response, the pilot reduced his back pressure on the control column. The airplane touched down "hard" on the main landing gear, and the nose "fell through" until the propeller and fuselage contacted the runway. The airplane veered to the right, and the pilot retarded the "throttle, prop and fuel" controls to shut down the engine. After the airplane came to a stop, the pilot secured the engine and airplane systems.
According to the airport director, an emergency response was initiated at 2248 via telephone, and volunteer fire department and rescue personnel from two separate organizations arrived on scene about 2256. Two deer, one of which was cut into three separate pieces, were found on the runway. A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) that closed the runway was issued about 2300. The airplane and the two deer were removed from the runway, the runway was inspected, and the runway closure NOTAM was then cancelled at 0105 the next day.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records indicated that the pilot held a private pilot certificate, with airplane single engine land and instrument airplane ratings. He had accumulated approximately 1,106 total hours of flight experience, including 406 hours in the accident airplane make and model. The pilot's most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued in August 2009, and his most recent flight review was completed in December 2009.
The 2254 recorded weather observation at CEU, included winds from 210 degrees at 4 knots, visibility 10 miles, clear skies, temperature 24 degrees C, dew point 10 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 29.95 inches of mercury. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, local sunset was about 2010.
According to FAA information, CEU was a public airport, owned and operated by Oconee County, South Carolina. CEU was equipped with a single asphalt runway, designated 7/25 and measured 4,400 by 100 feet.
As of the date of the accident, neither the CEU automated surface observing system (ASOS) broadcasts (available by radio and telephone), nor the FAA-published Airport/Facility Directory for CEU, contained any information about deer at the airport. Several days after the accident, an aerodrome NOTAM was issued for CEU which stated "DEER ON AND INVOF RWY." Also subsequent to the accident, the text "Deer on and Inv of rwy" was added to the Airport Remarks section of the CEU entry in the FAA Airport/Facility Directory. Information about the potential for the presence of deer at the airport was not incorporated into the ASOS broadcasts.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
According to the airport director, the airplane struck the deer approximately 1,350 feet from the departure threshold of the runway, and came to rest off the south side of the runway, about 650 feet beyond the deer strike location. Examination of the airplane by FAA and repair station personnel revealed that the nose landing gear collapsed, the radar pod on the right wing was dented and cracked, all three propeller blades were fractured, one engine mount attach point was fractured, and the firewall was buckled.
Airport Wildlife Management
According to the FAA, "aircraft collisions with wildlife annually cost the US aviation industry over $300 million in direct damage and associated costs, and over 500,000 hours of aircraft down time. The cost in human lives lost (over 100 since 1960) best illustrates the need for management of the wildlife strike problem. Between 1990 and 2007, mammal strikes accounted for 14 per cent of all reported strikes occurring at general aviation airports."
Airports certificated under 14 CFR Part 139 were required to have and implement wildlife control plans. In December 1999, the FAA distributed a manual entitled "Wildlife Hazard Management at Airports" to all part 139 airports. The manual was prepared for airport personnel in cooperation with the FAA and United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, was updated in July 2005, and was available at no cost on the FAA website.
In 2010, another FAA-sponsored wildlife management document was published and made available on the FAA and other websites. That document was the Transportation Research Board's Airport Cooperative Research Program Report 32, "Guidebook for Addressing Aircraft/Wildlife Hazards at General Aviation Airports." According to the FAA, the document "explores wildlife challenges that airports may face and potential techniques and strategies for addressing them…and the best management practices that airport operators can employ to minimize wildlife activity at and around airports."
CEU was not certificated under Part 139, but there were no regulatory prohibitions that would have precluded CEU from implementing any or all of the guidance provided in Part 139, or any of the other FAA-sponsored guidance regarding wildlife management.
According to the CEU airport director, at the time of the accident, a federally-funded runway extension project was in progress at the approach end of runway 25. A wooded area of approximately 60 acres, which was the property of a nearby university, was situated north of, and adjacent to, the airport property. The treeline was located approximately 150 feet from the runway, and no fence separated the airport from the wooded area. The director noted that deer regularly came onto airport property to feed on the vegetation that grew around the runway. The director possessed a deer depredation permit, which allowed him to shoot deer on the airport property out of season. The permit was granted to help eliminate aircraft-deer collisions, but due to the construction activity on the airport property, the practice was deemed as unsafe to the construction workers, and the activity was temporarily suspended. The director also reported that he was working with the FAA to acquire a funding grant for a fence along the northern airport property boundary.