Pilot who landed on Sullivan's Island says it was a legal maneuver, town administration disagrees

Pilot Cole Gaither said he landed on the beach to secure a plate that had come loose on the wing. (Source: Live 5)
Pilot Cole Gaither said he landed on the beach to secure a plate that had come loose on the wing. (Source: Live 5)

SULLIVAN'S ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - The pilot whose takeoff from a Sullivan's Island sandbar last Saturday was captured on video said his landing was completely legal and necessary.

Cole Gaither said he landed on the sandbar near Station 28 Saturday morning to secure a plate on the wing that was loose. Gaither said the landing was legal under the Federal Aviation Administration laws.

Gaither and his French Bulldog, Axel, aren't new to the air.

"I've got about 15,000 hours," he said. "I've been on quite a few and Axel has about four years with me."

Gaither was flying in the area Saturday morning to watch the Cooper River Bridge Run from the sky.

"As we came around Sullivan's Island, we noticed a plate that was coming off of the wing," Gaither said. "We saw the sandbar and thought we'd make a precautionary landing and reattach the plate."

But Sullivan's Island Town Administrator Andy Benke said the landing was illegal under both state and municipal law, regardless of what the FAA says.

Authorities report Gaither landed on the beach and then took off while police made their way to the aircraft.

"We noticed a police officer to our right as we were taking off but we were already going much too fast to abort the takeoff," he said. "I was already at the point of no return. If I would have throttled down, I would have ended up in the ocean."

Sullivan's Island administration did not want to go on camera because the investigation is still ongoing. Administration did, however, provide documents indicating, under state law, all inlets and islands within one mile of the municipality are covered in that jurisdiction and say the Town of Sullivan's Island law states taking off or landing aircraft is prohibited within 50 feet of land or water.

"The Sullivan's Island Police Department has been great," Gaither said after meeting with the chief of police. "We'll do whatever they ask us to do and comply. We're going to try and understand what their perspective is on this so we don't get into this situation again."

Gaither said the conflicting rules and regulations won't stop him from coming back out to Sullivan's Island in the future.

"We love coming out here," he said. "We probably won't come by airplane next time though."

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