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Rhinelander Airport Conditions Not Responsible For Thursday Incident; Attention Turns To Pilot

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Ben Meyer/WXPR
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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) quickly determined airport conditions had nothing to do with Thursday’s incident at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport that sent a pilot to the hospital.

“They looked at our surfaces, at our field condition reporting, where the aircraft began its incident and where it ended that incident and determined the airport was not a factor and shifted their attention to the operator,” Airport Director Matthew Leitner said Friday.

At about 8:15 a.m. Thursday, a FedEx-contracted Cessna flipped and came to a rest between the airport’s longest runway and a taxiway.  The only person in the airplane, the pilot, was injured.

The FAA arrived on scene at about noon Thursday and rapidly absolved the airport of any responsibility.

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Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
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The airplane involved in Thursday's incident, as seen Friday after its removal from near a runway at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.

At about 2 p.m. Friday, the damaged airplane was removed, allowing the runway to reopen.

“We were able to move the aircraft from near runway 927 and reopen that,” Leitner said.  “All of our services are open now, and we’re 100 percent operational.”

The FAA allowed aircraft to take off and land from the airport’s other main runway starting Thursday afternoon.  But the hours-long airport closure and operational delays led Delta to add Friday flights between Rhinelander and Minneapolis.

“We had four round-trips today.  Some flights brought in more bags than passengers, and vice versa, just to kind of catch everybody up,” Leitner said.

The plane was operated by Kingsford, Michigan-based CSA Air, a carrier on contract with FedEx.  The airplane was arriving from Milwaukee.

FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro could not provide an update on the pilot’s condition, and couldn’t give more details on the incident.

It’s unclear if weather was a factor.  Heavy snow blanketed the Rhinelander area on Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, Leitner assured travelers the airport is safe.

“We do our utmost to ensure that our infrastructure, physical and otherwise, is always safe.  That’s of paramount importance.  It’s foremost in our thoughts whenever we do anything out here.  I want to reassure the traveling public that we take that extremely seriously.  We would never jeopardize safety, whether it be for convenience or profit or whatever.  We would just never, ever do that,” he said.

Molinaro said the investigation will take “a few months.”

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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