Lewiston board approves student flight amid safety concerns


LEWISTON — The deaths of three Lewiston High School students on a Civil Air Patrol training flight in 2006 led some members of the School Committee to object to a request for a similar trip.

The “cadet incentive flight” field trip was approved by a vote of 5-3 Monday, with members Paul Beauparlant, Kiernan Majerus-Collins and City Council representative Alicia Rea voting no. Voting in favor were Chairwoman Megan Parks, Vice Chairman Bruce Damon, Elgin Physic, Tanya Whitlow and Lynnea Hawkins.

The vote will allow two students to receive flight instruction on a small airplane — likely a Cessna 172 or 182. The plan is to fly from the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport to a destination airport (possibly as close as Brunswick) with two adult pilots on June 4 or 5, depending on weather.

The high school’s Civil Air Patrol instructor, Lt. Col. Mark Welborn, told the School Committee that this flight would be similar but also dissimilar from the 2006 flight that crashed near Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry.

“It would be dissimilar in that the instructor (in 2006) was a civilian and by all accounts from the information I’ve gleaned since then, he was flying aggressively and erratically,” Welborn said.

He said this year’s pilot would be a lieutenant colonel with the Civil Air Patrol who is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot.

“I have extreme confidence in his capability,” Welborn said. “He is a very accomplished pilot.”

Welborn said the instruction flight is sanctioned through the Air Force, the Air Force Junior ROTC and the Civil Air Patrol.

He said he understood the committee’s dilemma in approving the flight.

“None of us would want any student harmed in any way,” he said. “But I consider this very safe.”

He said the exercise would give students, sophomores or juniors in this case, an opportunity to “see and feel what flight is like, to get a taste of that.”

Member Tanya Whitlow said the district has a policy on field trips that requires parents to be informed of all risks and to sign off on all trips.

Risks involved in the incentive flight include “aircraft mishap, flight mishap and forced landing,” according to the field trip request.

The risks were too much for some committee members.

“This is hard,” Majerus-Collins said. “I can see why you want to do this. Much of my concern is that we have a responsibility to keep kids safe. I just can’t vote for this.”

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a report a year after the 2006 crash that killed students Shannon Fortier, 15, Nicholas Babcock, 17, Teisha Loesburg, 16, and pilot William Weir.

According to the NTSB, Weir flew barefoot and performed unusual maneuvers such as steep dips. The Cessna 172 was operating at full throttle when it crashed into the tops of 60-foot trees on Barker Mountain, fell to the ground and caught fire, according to the report.

The report said each year more than 1,000 Air Force Junior ROTC cadets participate in the flight orientation program, which is designed to stimulate an interest in general aviation and aerospace activities.


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