MSU plane passengers share experience

Courtesy Louis Bonnette
Courtesy Louis Bonnette

by Brandon Richards bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC-TV) – More than 48-hours later, many questions remain about why a plane carrying the McNeese State University football team blew a tire as it took off from Lake Charles Regional Airport on Friday afternoon.

According to a preliminary report by the FAA, the plane clipped runway lights as it lifted off.

"To us, it was like hitting a pothole in the road," said Tom Hoefer, the MSU play-by-play announcer, who was one of 137 passengers on the plane. "It really didn't seem like too big of a deal. Everything seemed to be fine."

The captain of the plane decided to make an emergency landing in Tunica, Mississippi.

"[The pilot] knew we had a blow out so he had already decided then to go to Tunica, where he had a mechanic there who could put a new tire on," said MSU Sports Information Director Louis Bonnette.

According to both passengers 7 News spoke with, the captain made announcements mid-flight regarding the landing gear, but passengers were not notified that a tire had blown.

"As we're landing, we saw the ambulances and the fire trucks lining the runway," said Hoefer. "Before that we had no idea there was any seriousness to the situation."

After a few hours, a separate plane was sent to Tunica from Detroit to take the team on to their destination in Columbia, Missouri.

A formal investigation is underway.

Among the questions to be answered: Why didn't the pilot see the lights as the plane neared the end of the runway? Why did the plane even come so close to the end of the runway, considering a plane typical of the one carrying the football team usually needs only 5,000 feet of runway to lift off in dry weather, according to several aviation websites?  One of the runways at Lake Charles Regional measures 6,500 feet in length.

The FAA hopes to have its investigation complete in two weeks.

Calls on Sunday to Allegiant Air, the company who operates the plane, were not returned by deadline.

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