Santee Residents Fighting to Change Gillespie Field Flight Patterns

A deadly plane crash in a Santee neighborhood right after takeoff from Gillespie Field is a tragic reminder of what one group of homeowners has been hoping to avoid.

A Piper Cherokee carrying a flight instructor and student crashed onto a driveway Thursday, killing both men aboard the plane.

Advocates for Safe Airport Policies (ASAP) member Sue Strom shared some of the concerns raised by residents living hear the small airport who have been fighting to get flight patterns changed.

“When you have the density and intensity of flight training over neighborhoods then I think you're putting people at risk. Pilots and homes - it’s almost like Russian roulette,” explained Strom.

No one on the ground was injured when the plane fell out of the sky, clipped a roof and mangled two vehicles before coming to rest upside down in a driveway.

For at least three years ASAP members say they've been concerned about airplane crashes like Thursday’s because of what they believe is increasing flight school traffic over their Fletcher Hills homes.

The increase in flights, they argue, puts residents living near Gillespie Field at risk.

Though over the past seven years, Gillespie Field’s website shows more than 199,000 last year, the number of flight operations is substantially lower than the height in 2008.

Despite the numbers, 53 Fletcher Hills residents have decided to pursue a lawsuit.

Their concerns include noise and lead pollution as well as potential safety hazards presented by flight patterns.

“Unless [a plane] goes down as its traversing perpendicular across airport it’s going to go into residential area,” explained resident Chris Dean.

According to the county's director of airports, a 2012 air traffic pattern study showed Gillespie’s operations fit the facility and local environment.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob issued a statement reading in part:

“My heart goes out to the families of the two individuals that were on the plane. It would be premature to speculate on what happened, but I will be closely monitoring the details when they are available."

“Irrespective of engine failure or pilot error the end result is the same it came down in a residential area,” said Dean. “Something needs to be done to protect us the people in Santee."

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