GLIDER PILOT ILLEGALLY ARRESTED, DETAINED BY PEE DEE SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES
A 70-year-old glider pilot was arrested and detained for thirty hours last summer after his glider got too close to the H.B. Robinson Nuclear Generating Station in Hartsville, S.C.
But was it the Darlington County (S.C.) Sheriff’s deputies who ran afoul of the law when they arrested veteran glider pilot Robin Fleming last July and charged him with “breaching the peace?”
After all Fleming violated no airspace restrictions – in fact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) permitted him to continue his flight. Additionally, ground personel at the nuclear station were informed of the FAA decision – and were reassured the aircraft was merely a recreational glider seeking lift from the lake next to the power plant.
More to the point, Fleming was piloting a noiseless Rolladen-Schneider LS8-18 sailplane – which one aviation source observed “is hardly capable of crashing through a chain link fence let alone being used to damage a power plant.”
Nonetheless, in the eyes of the Darlington deputies, Fleming was a wanna-be Mohammed Atta who had to be brought down – even though local law enforcement lack the authority to “order” a plane to land.
But that’s exactly what they did. Not only that, four Sheriff’s cars pursued Fleming’s glider down the Hartsville runway until it came to a complete stop – at which point Fleming was arrested for violating a “no fly zone” and “infiltrating restricted airspace.”
Sheriff’s deputies alleged Fleming passed 100 feet over H.B. Robinson’s signature domed reactor – even though flight data from the plane showed he was never closer than 1,500 feet to the facility.
Fleming’s flight – and the treatment he received after his forced landing in Hartsville – are the focus of an expansive piece by Sarah Brown in this month’s Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) magazine.
Brown’s conclusion? That a bunch of overzealous South Carolina cops overstepped their authority and violated Fleming’s civil rights.
“This has become a huge story in the aviation community,” one of our sources notes.
And another embarrassment for South Carolina.
Acknowledging their overreaction, Darlington officials eventually dropped the charge against Fleming in exchange for him agreeing not to sue the department. They’ve also been busy scrubbing negative comments from county government social media sites.
It’s a great day in South Carolina, people! As long as you stay on the ground, apparently …