By Paul Gable
The ongoing dispute between Skydive Myrtle Beach and Horry County Department of Airports has taken interesting twists and turns in recent weeks.
In 2014, Skydive Myrtle Beach lodged a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration against Horry County Department of Airports alleging discriminatory actions against Skydive Myrtle Beach by HCDA.
In response, Horry County Department of Airports reported to the Federal Aviation Administration that Skydive Myrtle Beach was the subject of 112 alleged safety violations while conducting business at Grand Strand Airport.
According to Aaron Holly, a principal of Skydive Myrtle Beach, his business had never been notified of any of these violations and still has not received any official paperwork relating to any of them.
In October 2015, the FAA issued a 73 page Director’s Determination Report, in response to Holly’s original complaint, supposedly basing the report on those safety violations. Horry County subsequently used this report as an excuse to shut down Skydive Myrtle Beach operations at Grand Strand Airport.
County officials said FAA grant funding was in jeopardy if the Department of Airports didn’t act to shut down the business.
That’s not exactly true. A letter from Michael O’Donnell of the FAA to HCDA director Pat Apone, dated November 13, 2015, states in part, “The FAA also requested Horry County to submit a “corrective action plan incorporating acceptable risk mitigation measures and revised procedures under which safe skydiving operations may resume.”
The county was only supposed to suspend skydiving operations until a mitigation plan was submitted.
And the problem for HCDA gets worse.
Included in the Director’s Determination report is the following statement, “We have attached a video, and still pictures of a parachutist landing on the ramp/taxiway area of the airport. These photographs and video show the parachutist land in front of an aircraft, the aircraft stopping, and the parachutist pulling his parachute out of the way of the aircraft.”
Miguel Vascuncelos is listed on page 72 of the report as the FAA official who compiled the table of incidents listed in the report.
In November 2015, Skydive Myrtle Beach, through an FOIA request to Horry County, requested documentation, including videos and photos, substantiating the 112 safety violation allegations.
Horry County attorney Arrigo Carotti responded in an email that states in part, “…when we received a copy of the FAA Director’s Determination, we did not receive a copy of the accompanying record (including exhibits). We have requested copies, and will make them available pursuant to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act upon receipt.”
What Carotti is saying is that Horry County, the governmental entity that supposedly logged and reported to the FAA 112 safety violations by Skydive Myrtle Beach, has no record of the violations.
If the “accompanying record” referred to by Carotti did not come from Horry County, where did it originate?
Additionally, Aaron Holly, one of the principals of Skydive Myrtle Beach, has subsequently been told by Vascuncelos that there are no photos or videos substantiating any of the allegations.
As late as December 23, 2015, the FAA could not find the information being requested by Holly.
The following 12/23/2015 email correspondence between Holly and Duke Taylor of the FAA is interesting.
On Dec 23, 2015, at 12:22 PM, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
I do not know what documents have or have not been found that may or may not be responsive to your FOIA request.
My office process FOIA requests and works with the program offices which may be the custodians of requested records.
I am looking into the status of the response to your request.
I will be in contact with you when I have additional information.
To which Holly responded on the same date:
Mr Fiertz obviously has it or he couldn’t have written a 76 page doc about it. Michael O’Donnell was receiving letters from Pat Apone about these allegations, Thomas Winston’s office was sited in the report and Mr Jones’s office was brought in to do a safety study (which never happened) because of this information.
As the FOIA officer, it is your duty to produce the information requested. … The decision came out on 7 Oct 2015.
This is such a simple matter. I just told you who has the information (how else could they have written a 76 page document unless someone spoon fed them information)
I have produced emails which state no one knows where the information is.
What is going on?
How about getting me in touch with someone who actually might know where to find this information.