JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 66-year-old man died Saturday when the glider he was piloting crashed along a treeline not far from a runway at Herlong Airport, police said.
According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the crash was reported at 1:15 p.m. in the thick underbrush next to the woodline surrounding the airport.
Lt. Mike Wilcox said the pilot, who witnesses said had several years of experience, was about 150 feet in the air when he released from the tow plane and that the glider appeared to be in immediate distress.
“As soon as the tow rope was let go, the glider appeared to be in distress. The glider immediately pitched and nose-dived,” Wilcox said. “It appears that the pilot of the glider is an experienced glider pilot. He owns the actual glider he was in.”
JSO is asking anyone with video of the crash or who saw what happened to please call the Sheriff’s Office non-emergency line at 904-630-0500.
(UNCUT: Press play below to watch JSO’s update on the deadly crash)
Sky4 aerials showed the glider crashed on the edge of a wooded area not far from the end of one of the airport’s runways. Close-up images showed the tail crumpled, the left wing snapped in half and the cockpit virtually shattered.
News4JAX aviation expert Ed Booth said gliders are extremely safe and accidents are not unheard of -- but are rare.
“There are very few fatal glider accidents,” Booth said. “It’s due to a couple of factors. Gliders fly much slower than powered airplanes, typically. In addition, they do not carry fuel. And in a crash situation, you don’t have to worry about fires or explosions. And so they have a remarkable safety record.”
“I do not remember a fatal glider crash in Jacksonville ever,” Booth added. “The glider club at Herlong Airport has been operating there for 50 or 60 years. I have flown in gliders as a passenger on numerous occasions, and it’s been done safely for decade after decade.”
The glider club that flies out of Herlong is the North Florida Soaring Society.
JSO told News4JAX that some witnesses they spoke with were part of a glider club, but didn’t specify which.
A glider is a fixed-wing aircraft that typically does not have an engine. The National Transportation Safety Board posted on Twitter that it will be investigating a crash of a Schleicher ASW-19B aircraft near Jacksonville. That type of glider is a single-seat aircraft.
Wilcox said the NTSB investigators will arrive Sunday, and Federal Aviation Administration investigators are already on scene with JSO homicide detectives.
Albert Gay said he knew something happened at the airport Saturday.
“I saw, you know, a bunch of police and fire trucks just come in this way,” said Gay, who lives near the airport. “I didn’t know what happened.”
Gay said he’s lived across from the airport for almost 20 years. He hears planes daily and even questions how this one went down.
“Yeah, that sounds unusual, because I’ve yet to see one just take a nosedive going straight down, there’s usually just coasting around in that circle,” Gay said.
He’s seen the gliders carried by tow planes as well.
The FAA said glider pilots don’t have to have a medical license and can be 14 years old to operate one.
Booth said those factors contribute to how safe the FAA finds these aircraft to be.
Gay said he knows of other plane crashes related to this airport.
“I just hate it. It keeps happening, you know,” Gay said.
He hopes whatever comes from this investigation helps prevent future crashes.
It’s up to the NTSB to find out exactly what happened in this crash.