Updated at 5:34 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3:
The Federal Aviation Administration responded to Xpress‘ email request for any further information about the FAA’s investigation into this incident, saying, “We have nothing to add to the statement, which explained that the pilot was not operating improperly.”
Additionally, the FAA spokesperson explained, “We have no information that indicates the flight was operating in violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations, so an investigation is not warranted.”
Updated at 5:06 p.m. on Thursday, April 27:
Local Facebook accounts are buzzing with questions about a small plane observed over North Asheville on the evening of Wednesday, April 26, at about 7:45 p.m.
On Thursday, Kathleen Bergen of the Federal Aviation Administration wrote in an email: “The FAA determined that an aircraft departed from Hendersonville Airport at 7:45 pm, circled over Asheville twice, then returned to the airport. The radar system could not identify the aircraft or its altitude, and the pilot did not contact air traffic control. The pilot was flying under visual flight rules and was not required to communicate with air traffic control. We cannot confirm that this is the aircraft that residents reported. FAA systems cannot identify whether aircraft are spraying.”
Xpress reached a representative of Aerolina, Inc., which operates the Hendersonville Airport, late on Thursday afternoon. The representative declined to give his name, but said that he was not present on Wednesday evening and had no idea whether a plane matching the description given to the FAA had flown out of his airport at that time. The field is a “noncontrol” airport, he said, and pilots are not required to file flight plans or reports.
The Aerolina representative declined to answer whether any spraying operations are based out of the airfield, saying that he had provided that information to the FAA. With regards to reports that the plane had a vintage appearance, the Aerolina representative said he wasn’t aware of any of the historic aircraft at the Western North Carolina Air Museum (which is located at the Hendersonville Airport) having flown yesterday evening.
Since I was among the Ashevilleans who saw the plane, it is relevant to share my observations here as we await more details:
At about 7:30, or as late as 7:45 p.m., yesterday evening, I noticed a small plane flying low above North Asheville as I walked along the stretch of Kimberly Avenue that borders the golf course of the Grove Park Inn.
The plane, which appeared to be a small, vintage aircraft with no visible markings, was flying southward, over the Charlotte Street area, releasing a trail of smoke that appeared orange in the light of the setting sun.
I first thought the pilot must be skywriting, but then almost immediately rejected that theory because the plane was flying so low. From where I walked, the plane appeared to be just above tree level.
As I watched, the smoke trail stopped and the plane flew away, banked slightly to the east as it continued its southward trajectory. Within seconds, the plane had disappeared behind the trees.
At home, I told my son about the sighting, saying how strange it had seemed to see a plane flying so low and releasing a colored trail of smoke late in the evening. Although I don’t have any particular expertise in assessing the altitude of aircraft, I estimated the plane to be flying at about 300-400 feet above the ground.
I later learned that others also were saying they had observed the strange sight. One local Facebooker wrote: “Anyone witness the small engine plane flying over 240 and spraying red fog on charlotte street that fell like red ash flakes and then the plane moved to the south end over Biltmore Mall area and sprayed a bunch more ? Several folks have witnessed this plane flying at around 200′ and it the airport has no record of it.” By shortly before noon on Thursday, the post had attracted 81 comments, many from other eyewitnesses.
One commenter wrote that her husband had seen and heard the plane from Town Mountain; she said he estimated the plane’s altitude at 700-1,000 feet. He also witnessed smoke coming from the plane: “he thought the sun being almost opposite and close to horizon was making blackish smoke glow brownish, thought at first it was a skywriter, as it passed over charlotte st. banked a wide circle and smoke appeared to stop as it went across chestnut hill neighborhood and came back across 240 headed south… he didn’t notice fallout from smoke, just dispersion…”
Some others wrote that the plane had left a red flaky residue along the Charlotte Street corridor.
No commenter on threads reviewed by Xpress reported having photos or videos of the airplane.
According to Alex Bradley, spokesperson for the Asheville Regional Airport Authority, “Pilots must communicate with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) when operating in controlled airspace. We do not have any information about this flight.”
Bradley referred Xpress to FAA Communications Manager Kathleen Bergen.
Xpress will update this post as more information is received. Please contact us at 828-251-1333 or leave a comment if you have photos, videos or information about the plane to share.