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Planes might join boats on Lake Mitchell

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Life Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
Planes might join boats on Lake Mitchell
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Pilots may be joining fisherman on the waters of Lake Mitchell. A current passage in the city code prohibits airplanes and helicopters from landing within city limits where there's not an emergency. But a new ordinance would amend the city code to allow for aircraft equipped with float-pontoons to legally land on the surface of Lake Mitchell.


The ordinance was given initial approval at the July 1 meeting, and could receive final approval at the next regularly scheduled meeting, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Mitchell City Hall.

To land a plane on the lake, the ordinance says the aircraft would have to weigh less than 10,000 pounds and must stay at least 500 feet above ground level when passing over populated or residential areas.

"We've heard of people landing on the lake," said Mike Scherschligt, airport manager.

While planes have landed on the lake, according to Scherschligt and Jeff Krall, who spoke to the City Council in favor of the ordinance July 1, it has, in the past, been a breach of the city code.

Lake Mitchell, which has 10 miles of shoreline, has plenty of room to land a seaplane, Krall said.

Krall, who owns and operates a seaplane, said it takes 500 to 1,000 feet to get his airplane airborne.

"There is more than enough room," Krall said. "You can land an airplane in one of the bays, just to get a rough perspective."

Krall cited a study from the National Transportation Safety Board that investigated seaplane accidents from 1983 to 1995. Over that span, there were 195 total seaplane accidents on water, the majority of which occurred in Alaska and Florida. Three accidents involved collisions with boats, causing three fatalities, and there were six accidents caused by a boat's wake, in which the aircraft did not collide with a boat.

"If you look at the numbers, between boats and airplanes, accidents are basically nonexistent," Krall said.

Krall cited a pilot's increased visibility, special licenses required to land airplanes on water and additional training required to pilot float planes as reasons why it would be safe to allow airplanes to land on the lake.

"It's improbable a plane would hit a fisherman or a person," Krall said.

The planes could be moored just like a boat, and create a 2-inch wake when landing or taking off.

The pilot would not have to have communication with the airport to land on the lake, Scherschligt said.