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No blame in close air encounter at airport

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

From the ground, it appeared an airplane aborted its landing to avoid a helicopter Monday at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, but airport officials said the helicopter played no role in the pilot’s decision to circle around and make a second approach.

Frontier Airlines flight No. 1043 from Denver to Durango touched down safely at 9:08 a.m., said Don Brockus, spokesman for the airport.

Durango resident Ted Gross, who was at the airport, said it appeared the pilot was forced to abort his landing and bank hard to avoid a helicopter that was flying in the area.

Monica Garner said she was driving on Colorado Highway 172, which runs past the airport, when she saw the close encounter.

“It was very scary,” she said. “They were very close. I didn’t think they were going to hit, but something happened. All of a sudden, the plane banked hard to the left.”

The plane then climbed fast and circled around to land, she said.

Brockus said a helicopter was checking power lines in the area.

Both pilots were in communication before the aborted landing, according to air-traffic communications, he said. The helicopter pilot asked the airplane pilot if he made the plane abort, and the plane pilot responded: “You were not a factor,” Brockus said.

It is uncommon, but not unheard of, for pilots to abort a first landing to make a second approach, he said. He compared it to parking a car – sometimes the approach is wrong and it takes a second try.

The airport didn’t receive any communications from the pilot or the airline as to why the pilot abandoned the first landing, he said.

“I would not call it common, but it does happen,” Brockus said.


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