Who should worry?

An airplane crashed not half a mile from my house, and I heard nothing until the sirens began.

We live underneath the flight path of many planes taking off and landing at Horace Williams Airport. We always know when the Tar Heels are playing football at home because of the increased air traffic, and more jets than usual. Men’s basketball games cause an uptick in flights, too, as do UNC system board meetings.

But most other times, we get a mix of planes. Some of it may be people taking flying lessons. I think one of the tests you have to pass on your way to getting a pilot’s license is to know what to do when the plane stalls. We have several times heard a plane buzzing lazily overhead, then sputter, then dead silence. If that doesn’t get all heads to snap upwards, nothing will.

All due respect to my friend Diane Bloom, a longtime, diligent proponent of closing Horace Williams Airport, I’ve never really felt unsafe living where I do. Bad things can happen anywhere. My kids will be the first to accuse me of being a hypocrite. They can recite chapter and verse my lecture on not tempting fate. A few crashes have occurred at Horace Williams during the years we’ve lived here, always somewhere inside the Horace Williams tract. Yes, they could have happened a half-mile earlier, and there I’d be with a flaming jet in my living room. But of all the things I worry about, I can’t generate any anxiety over waiting for that to happen.

I worried more during the years I worked for the N&O and drove home from Raleigh after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, when the only other drivers on the road had likely been drinking for the past several hours. I worry as I walk across supermarket parking lots and see frail, elderly shoppers who use their carts as ersatz walkers, then get behind the wheel of a car.

Once the economy gets going, construction will begin on Carolina North, and that will force the closing of Horace Williams. All those flights will be diverted to RDU, and the people who stay in the hotels or work in the restaurants and stores edging the airport or live in the subdivisions oozing ever closer to RDU will have that much more to worry about. But those of us who live near Horace Williams will know that the next time a plane crashes, it won’t be in our backyard. That’s supposed to make us feel better?
– Nancy Oates

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  1. From when I was 7 until I went to college, I lived under the downwind leg of the flight pattern at Horace Williams. I still love watching small planes in the sky. I’m not that romantic a guy, but defying gravity still stirs me. I used to volunteer to clear the gutters on the house just to get a better view of planes on a Saturday afternoon (before they closed most public flights). So while I understand the fear that some have, I will miss having the airport in town. Living now in the flight path of UNC Hospital helicopters just isn’t the same.

  2. Steve

     /  July 14, 2010

    Horace Williams Airport is one of the many raw gems of Chapel Hill, not unlike the Morehead Planetarium. Only the most short-sighted, bourgeois-bashing Luddite would be in favor of closing the airport. Sadly, our community is filled with people like that. I reserve the coarse word’ stupid’ for the very few times its use is warranted, and this is one of them.

    The CHN article yesterday on the topic was filled with such raving inaccuracies that I was embarrassed to have that paper in my home. Practically every sentence was riddled with gross errors of fact. It is frightening to see the decline of journalistic standards in recent times.

    Lastly: the tragedy of the death of the big-hearted, generous pilot and aircraft owner is tastelessly being co-opted by locals. Is there no low they won’t go to? This man was transporting the brother of a terrorist victim to be with his family, and our class-impaired anti-airport activists pounce on the ‘opportunity.’ Simply disgusting.

  3. Fred Black

     /  July 14, 2010

    Steve, what “CHN article yesterday” are you referencing? I have seen little anti-airport comments. And for the record, I share a property boundary with HWA, chaired the Town’s HWA committee and sat on UNC’s HWA Advisory Board, so this is not a new issue for me.

    Such strong language for the UNC leaders!

  4. Nancy Oates

     /  July 14, 2010

    The Wednesday Chapel Hill News is delivered in many neighborhoods between 8 and 10 p.m. on Tuesday nights. There is an article on the front page about the crash. Bear in mind that the Wednesday CHN is printed Monday at 6 p.m., so the story doesn’t have many facts beyond the basics and a few quotes from activists who’ve lobbied to close the airport, one of whom said wryly, “Every time something happens at the airport, I get dusted off for a quote, then put back in my box.”

  5. Fred Black

     /  July 14, 2010

    Nancy, I don’t see that quote in my copy. I see a quote from Ed Harrison, some comments from Diane who also served on the committee/board, and our mayor. I see no distasteful use of the death of the pilot being co-opted. Is my edition different?

  6. Nancy Oates

     /  July 14, 2010

    The quote I put in my comment was something someone said to me personally, as we were talking. It didn’t appear in any publication (other than here).

  7. Steve

     /  July 14, 2010


    An article with any taste would have been titled “Mercy Trip to Chapel Hill Ends in Tragedy … Brother of Ugandan Terrorist Victim Narrowly Avoids Death Himself.” That this event is being hijacked to foment airport closure efforts makes it fodder for the editorial page, at best. Like I said, disgusting and class-less.


  8. Fred Black

     /  July 14, 2010

    OK Steve, but you wrote much more. Where are the “raving inaccuracies?” Where are the “gross errors of fact?” One opponent to HWA was quoted, so how can you say that “our class-impaired anti-airport activists pounce(d) on the ‘opportunity.’”

    Fairness flows in both directions.

  9. Fred Black

     /  July 14, 2010

    Let me add – HWA is closing not because of it’s opponents, safety concerns, or anything else but purely economic reasons. I defy anyone to prove otherwise!

  10. Bill

     /  July 14, 2010

    I’ll believe it is closed when it closes. I am not holding my breath, the anti-airport folks can protest all they want.

  11. Steve

     /  July 14, 2010

    Inaccuracies? Start with these two…

    HWA has been an airport since at least 1933, not the 1940s. It’s one of the oldest fields in NC, by the way, a place that has some direct connection to the concept of ‘airport’ itself.

    If there was such outrage at HWA since 1960, as is stated, why then was the main runway expanded and improved upon six times since 1971?

    As to the economics, kicking the Flying Club out was a fait accompli. Take away (evict) the primary paying tenant from ANY such cash operation and see what happens. The University lost 100% credibility in claiming fiscal imperilment when they did that.

    There is zero actual reason to close HWA as it would enhance, not detract from, the value premise of Carolina North. How do I know that? Because **I’m** one of the kinds of people the Town and the University claim to be trying to attract and they have effectively chased me off. I am currently NOT considering buying commercial space in and moving operations to Chapel Hill BECAUSE the University plans on closing HWA. If I knew that the airport would stay open, I’d be having a very different discussion than my current business expansion plans in RTP or Raleigh.

    Moreover, if the Town had even an ounce of collective sense, it’d have annexed the field as a municipal airport decades ago and made it into an annuity income source.

    Like I used the word … stupid … just stupid. I wish I could come to some other conclusion.

  12. Fred Black

     /  July 14, 2010

    Steve, I think some use the 1940 date because that is when Horace Williams died and the land went to UNC. The field became operational in 1933. Yes the runway did expand over the years, eventually getting to 4,005 ft. but there was opposition, and obviously unsuccessful.

    Even with the flying club, UNC still had to heavily subsidize the facility. As for keeping it open AND building Carolina North, most of the folks that UNC wanted to partner with them wanted no airport there.

    Are you sure that a North Carolina town/city can annex state property?

    Sorry, your anger is not supported by what was in that article and I see no evidence of any distasteful use of the death of the pilot being co-opted by critics.

    PS: The Chancellor said at a meeting on 25 June that as soon as the hangers are ready AHEC will relocate and UNC will start the necessary infrastructure work that they need to do on the site.

  13. Bill

     /  July 15, 2010

    Steve, you don’t know what you are talking about. Fred on the other hand sat on an “advisory board”. So he is an expert at this, you need to pay attention to what he says.

  14. Steve

     /  July 15, 2010

    Bill, thanks. You’re right, of course. I was thinking about the error of my ways and how thankful I am that Fred has approved a new version of Opinion that I should replace mine with.

    Fred, who lives near HWA and whose property value would skyrocket with the build-out of Carolina North, obviously took a totally neutral stance while he sat on the committee that harpooned the airport while pretending they were just being good stewards of my tax money.

    Only rich people use general aviation facilities, and you know how much we hate rich people around here! That’s why we need to tear down the airport and replace it with a law school that we have one of already, since we KNOW we need new lawyers (hopefully none of them will become rich) and besides, the State will subsidize the law school.

    Um, and subsidies are, um, bad … er, wait, good. I forget what I am supposed to think. No worries. Fred will straighten me out.

  15. Mark Marcoplos

     /  July 15, 2010

    Fred has the best info on this situation. Best to pull back and get your facts straight, Steve.

  16. Fred Black

     /  July 16, 2010

    One of the sad things about life around here is people are willing to post whatever they want without any personal accountability or commitment to integrity or the truth as backed by the facts; I guess that’s why they don’t identify themselves.

    Anyone in Chapel Hill who was paying attention, and regardless of their personal position on HWA, know that the HWA Advisory Board made NO recommendations on closing HWA; that was not the mission. That decision which you reference was made by the UNC Chancellor and ratified by the Board of Trustees, and then the GA when it was challenged. If you think otherwise Steve, you are woefully misinformed and need to take some steps to research the issue. At some point, include getting some knowledge on the current law school building before you reveal your ignorance to the entire world.

  17. Runner

     /  July 16, 2010


    Everytime I drive down MLK toward Estes drive, I look and the HWA land and wish that the town was able to get a couple of those acres along the road and create a nice passive park. You know, one with a large central lawn surrounded by sidewalks and benches. It would have made for a great centralized gathering spot in Chapel Hill. I feel that this was a missed opportunity in laying out the new use for HWA.

  18. Fred Black

     /  July 16, 2010


    There are plans for CN to have such a place, but what does that have to do with someone accusing someone they don’t know of doing public service position for personal gain? Such nonsense is what destroys the value of these blogs.

    The “missed opportunity” as you see it had nothing to do with the HWA Advisory Board and everything to do with the University and the Town. Have you engaged them on your issue?

  19. Runner

     /  July 16, 2010


    Don’t get so defensive. I was not piling on the other comments on this topic. I was just pointing out that I think some of the MLK facing land of Carolina North would make for a great local version of Central Park for the Town of Chapel Hill.

  20. Joe Capowski

     /  July 16, 2010

    Steve writes above:
    “As to the economics, kicking the Flying Club out was a fait accompli. Take away (evict) the primary paying tenant from ANY such cash operation and see what happens. The University lost 100% credibility in claiming fiscal imperilment when they did that.”

    Steve, I must agree with others that you are writing more from emotion than from knowledge. Indeed you should listen to Fred.

    Chancellor Moeser kicked out the CH Flying Club because their leaders attempted to cover up a crash. In what had to be the most bonehead move since the Ruth trade, the pilot who crashed — it is good that he wasn’t hurt — called the club’s president instead of calling 911. The pilot and the club president, now working together, still refused to report the accident to 911. About three hours and the onset of darkness passed before someone else reported the accident. This delay forced the CHFD to clean up a gasoline spill at night when more gas had spilled, vision was much poorer, and danger to the firefighters was higher. I’ve never seen CH Fire Chief Dan Jones so mad.

    I’ve served on about a dozen committees that pertain the the airport, the Horace Williams Tract, and Carolina North.

  21. Bill

     /  July 16, 2010

    Yes, Steve- you must obey those who have the time to serve on “committees”. They are far more knowledgable than you- they have jobs that allow them to serve on “committees” because they are not so demanding as your job is. Working for non-profit organizations has its benefits, and one is being able to serve on “advisory boards” “committees” and the like, where they can educate themselves and claim superiority over you.

    Steve, please see the error of your ways, and give in to those with superior knowledge, those who have served their town on “advisory boards” and “committees”. Once you do, you will feel a lot better and you will not be so angry all of the time. I think you need professional help to handle your obvious anger management issues. I once served on an “advisory board” about anger management issues, so I know what I am talking about, unlike you, the unanointed.

  22. Peachy

     /  July 16, 2010

    As I was driving north, I saw the airplane overhead just a couple of minutes before it crashed. The tiny plane looked as if it were experiencing updrafts, slightly swooping. Then, as I waited for the interminable traffic light at MLK & Piney Mtn., I heard a CRASH in the direction of the HW Airport across the street and thought there might be a fuselage fire. Luckily not.

  23. Peachy

     /  July 17, 2010

    …and I live alongside the flight path so, yes, it’s a personal concern to close the airport.

    Years ago I was told that Winston Salem businessman Bahner used to get his pilot to fly in to HWA, open the door & out Bahner would roar on his motorcycle heading south on Airport Rd. to the UNC Physics dept.

  24. Mark Marcoplos

     /  July 19, 2010


    Just caught up with your post by the local tea-baggers featuring my name linked to the rural airport location issue. The local tea-baggers – like the national variety – claim to be helping everyday people while they do the bidding of powerful intersts. The fact is, we discovered a scam to put an airport in our backyard and we publicized the ill-conceived idea and resisted it. Next time you are feeling impotent, give us a call. We’ll let you know how to defend what is important to you.

  25. Nancy Oates

     /  July 19, 2010

    You know, there’s an exclusive residential community in Chatham County that has as one of its selling points a landing strip in the center of the subdivision. Maybe they could just add another runway, and the problem of where to relocate AHEC would be solved.

  26. Mark Marcoplos

     /  July 19, 2010

    There’s no “problem” with where to locate AHEC. Even most of the health professionals associated with AHEC agree that RDU is a fine location. The “problem” is with the wealthy alumni, local business people, and various other high rollers who would love to have their own private airport. If you don’t think they are entitled to that, just ask them.

  27. WJ

     /  July 19, 2010

    To MM’s post 7/19 at 12:16 am:

    Seriously? Name calling is your response to Bill’s link?? And I believe you are using a sexual practice primarily by homosexuals as an attempted slur. If so, then are you homophobic sir? Why would you try and make fun of gays and what is done in the privacy of an individuals home?

    With such a mean-spirited reply in public, one can only wonder at what other bigoted intolerant words you use in private against groups that you make fun of or disagree with.

  28. Bill

     /  July 19, 2010

    When this was last written about, the doctors that volunteer for the program were quoted that driving to RDU, parking, etc was definitely worse than going up Airport Rd . Duh that is pretty obvious if you drive I 40 much. So I ask Mark M to provide documentation that the doctors are okay with it, that is certainly not what I recall. They are volunteering their time and as such should have it be as easy as possible to do.

    I volunteer a lot, and the organizations that make life a little easier get my professional assistance on a repeat basis. Those that make it a hassle, do not, as one organization is fixing to find out. So I have a hard time believing any professional volunteer would like going to RDU.

    And WJ, as regards “teabagger” I agree it is pretty low to use such terms. Pretty sad, really. Maybe there is a need for professsional help.

  29. Mark Marcoplos

     /  July 19, 2010

    You guys crack me up. What’s for dinner? Red herring?

    Only a couple of old timers were hung up on saving a few minutes by not driving to RDU. The majority of folks involved saw the overall wisdom of an RDU location. I can’t put my finger on documentation just now, but feel free to document your assertion and that may put the argument to rest.

  30. Mark Marcoplos

     /  July 19, 2010

    One more thing – who are you guys anyway? It’s like debating with cartoon characters when you don’t even have the garden variety integrity to identify yourself.

  31. Bill

     /  July 20, 2010

    “I can’t put my finger on the documentation just now”. Good one.

    “Who are you guys”? What does that have to do with anything? Are you planning on sending me hate mail or something?

    You don’t know me, sir- therefore do not question my integrity. How insulting!

  32. BGK

     /  July 20, 2010

    This rambunctious behavior does nothing to further whatever points y’all are trying to make, demeans us all, and distracts from the point of the article (tempting fate and shifting worries somewhere else. A first read reminded me of a scene from The World According To Garp -‘It’s pre-disastered!’ Garp (Robin Williams) exclaims after a plane crashes into the house he and Helen are considering buying. Mental deficience notwithstanding, nothing warranting trolling, quips about virility or agendas of subterfuge leapt at me from the screen).

    Integrity indeed.

    I’d posit that the site admins should do a little more to curb this sophomoric bickering but then again it ~has~ kept me reading for the past few days. Maybe after the dearth of activity attributed to homeownership and 500-year old prurient tales, sinking to the LCD is a way to drum up page views. I can only hope that they demonstrate some integrity when screening the Guest Blogger applicants; we can all agree that there are plenty of other online sites for ass-showing.

    As to the perceived need for a ‘central park’…there’s a pretty big parklike space about two city blocks west of Piney Mountain and MLK Jr….among other things, people like to run on the 20+ miles of trails back there and appreciate its integrity sans Strawberry Fields memorials or hot dog and gimcrack vendors. I recommend a visit before crying to make this area just like somewhere else.

  33. Fred Black

     /  July 20, 2010

    But yet “Bill,” you have no problem questioning the integrity of others. You are a billboard for the concept of insulting yourself.

  34. Bill

     /  July 20, 2010

    I hate to leave such wonderful and intelligent people who sometimes post on this site, but the Fred and Mark show has just gotten to be too much. They remind me of a quote from an Austin Powers movie (pardon if I paraphrase)

    There are two things I cannot stand- people who are intolerant of other people’s cultures- and the Dutch.

    I think this sums up the so called progressives perfectly.
    Good luck finding your next punching bag.

  35. Duncan O'Malley

     /  August 4, 2010

    I recently drove past the new AHEC hangar site at RDu and construction is well underway!

    Now we have to wait and see if the university actually closes HWA once the new building is completed or will the alumni-fatcat pilots have enough power to keep it open for their own private purposes.