By Paul Gable
It is now apparent that Skydive Myrtle Beach was shut down from operating at Grand Strand Airport on the basis of safety allegations that were never investigated, much less proved.
For whatever reason, county officials (council members, staff or some combination thereof) decided they wanted to shut down Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB). The only way they could do that and not violate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Grant Assurances was to claim safety violations.
And this they did, sort of.
Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA) staff and Robinson Aviation employees, who were contracted with HCDA to operate the Grand Strand Airport control tower, created 112 “Unusual Incident Reports” (UIR) of SDMB alleged safety violations over a nearly two year period.
HCDP sent these UIR’s to the Federal Aviation Administration as documentation of safety violations. According to responses to FOIA requests by both Horry County and the FAA, none of these alleged incidents was ever investigated by HCDA and only one, number 86 on the compilation record, was investigated by the FAA.
Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti responses to two FOIA requests:
“These records are provided in an abundance of caution, in that each may or may not demonstrate violation by Skydive Myrtle Beach of Horry County Department of Airports Minimum Standards, as that assessment has not been undertaken.”
“Enforcement was held in abeyance due to pending litigation.”
No investigation of any of the incidents was ever conducted by HCDA or other Horry County agencies.
The FAA found NO VIOLATION in the case of number 86, which occurred on May 31, 2015.
Addressing the May 31, 2015 incident in a letter dated November 6, 2015, from James A. Dangerfield, Aviation Safety Inspector for the Flight Standards District Office in Columbia, SC to Aaron Holly of SDMB, Dangerfield clearly states, “This letter is to inform you that our investigation has not established a violation of Federal Aviation Regulations and you may consider the matter closed.”
The May 31, 2015 incident was similar to nearly all of the 111 other alleged violations in that a parachutist landed outside of the airport’s landing zone, in this case on the beach.
Thomas A. Winston, Manager, Flight Standards Division, Southern Region, in a response to an FOIA request:
“You requested information regarding 112 allegations of safety violations used to make the table in the Directors Report dated October 7, 2016 by Randall Fiertz. We searched our files maintained in the South Carolina Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). We could not find any documents responsive to your request.”
Carotti’s response provided the 112 UIR’s but said they may or may not demonstrate violations because that assessment was never undertaken because of impending litigation. (Actually, there was already ongoing litigation when his responses were made.)
Winston said there are no documents responsive to safety violations in the FAA office. (The only one of the 112 UIR’s ever investigated by the FAA was found to have no violation.)
So, even though these 112 alleged safety violations occurred over a nearly two year period, the county never investigated them and the FAA investigated only one.
NO SAFETY VIOLATIONS BY SDMB WERE EVER DOCUMENTED AS A RESULT OF AN INVESTIGATION BY EITHER HCDA OR THE FAA.
How would you like to be sent to jail for an alleged crime for which no investigation was ever conducted?
Aaron Holly of SDMB has always maintained there was no due process in this case and the record shows he is correct.
HCDA and Robinson Aviation employees alleged safety violations and their word was taken without investigation by the FAA and used to create a Director’s Determination by the FAA’s Randall Fiertz that was used by the county as the excuse to shut down SDMB operations.
I have maintained for many years that governments sometimes take questionably legal actions, based on their desires, which ultimately force the victim to spend their hard earned dollars suing the respective agency while that agency spends your tax dollars to defend itself.
The case of Skydive Myrtle Beach and the City of Myrtle Beach ordinance requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets come quickly to mind.