Pilot Richard Coleman of Ogden, N.Y. was killed when he crashed his single-engine Cessna 210-L in a field between UR’s Graduate Living Center and the Strong Medical Center parking lot at 5:37 p.m. last Thursday.
Avoiding the Medical Center and streets during rush hour traffic, Coleman attempted to land his plane on a narrow strip of open space near GLC. “This pilot did a huge job trying to stay away from busy areas,” spokesperson for the Rochester Police Department Carlos Garcia said.
Just before the crash, the pilot communicated by radio to the Greater Rochester International Airport indicating that he was having engine trouble and would be making an emergency landing.
Witnesses heard the engine cutting in and out as the plane was passing over the Medical Center, according to Director of UR Security Walter Mauldin. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are currently investigating the cause of the crash.
Coleman’s filed flight path indicated that he would be traveling from Altoona, Pennsylvania to Buffalo, but Mauldin said that the pilot changed his course at some point during the latter part of his flight. “The indication we got upon further investigation was that he was headed to Rochester,” Mauldin said. “It is unclear whether the change was before or after the reported engine trouble.”
As the plane neared the field, its wheel struck the fence surrounding the field and the plane crashed into an embankment and burst into flames.
One GLC resident was on his way home from his job at the Medical Center when he witnessed the immediate aftermath of the accident. “At first I thought it was a car at the parking lot,” he said. “As soon as I reached the fence I realized it was a plane that had crashed and caught on fire.”
The student said he felt that the fence was the reason the pilot could not land. “From looking at the damage done to the fence around the soccer field I felt sorry for the pilot as he was so close to landing,” he said. “Those fences are a real eye sore and I always wished they had never put them up.”
Sophomore Sara Young is also a resident of deKiewiet Tower. She was in her room when she heard the sirens and looked outside. “I looked out my window and I saw a gigantic fire in the baseball field about 100-200 feet away from our building,” she said. “At first I was just shocked because I didn’t know what was going on.”
Other students were also confused. “It’s only 150 yards away [from GLC] so you don’t really know what to say when something like this happens,” sophomore and Valentine resident Sam Barber said.
Coleman’s landing is being called heroic because he was able to avoid buildings and high-traffic streets. “It appears that he did everything he could to steer his plane away from any buildings, thus saving the lives of many others,” Dean of Students Jody Asbury said. “We must be very grateful to the pilot for this.”
Local pilot Dennis Christiano has flown the route along Elmwood Avenue and said that Coleman made an extremely difficult landing. “From the air, he put it in a place that looked like a postage stamp to him,” Christiano told the Democrat and Chronicle. “He saved a lot of lives, potentially.”
UR Security responded immediately along with the RPD to secure the perimeter and to get statements from witnesses. “The best thing we could do was set up a perimeter and give information to the police,” Mauldin said.
Mauldin said that the crash landing was a reality check for UR ? both for response systems and for students ? “Systems within the university got a real world test,” he said. “People worked very well together.”
President Thomas Jackson agreed. “I want to make special note of the ways in which all segments of the university community responded ? from security, through facilities, to the ongoing work of Dean Asbury and her staff,” he said. “Our security staff received kudos from the Rochester Police Department for their quick assistance.”
According to Asbury, UR will plan some type of recognition for the pilot and his family. If students wish to help in this effort, they should contact the Dean of Students’ office.
“This was obviously a great tragedy for the pilot and his family,” Jackson said. “We can be very grateful, however, that even though the crash occurred on the campus, the university community was spared any harm.”
Additional reporting by Aaron Severs and Cortney Jansen.