Kentucky airport takes direct tornado hit

Aviation community rallies to help rebuild

A Kentucky general aviation airport was in the path of a tornado that carved a 220-mile swath of destruction in the early morning hours of December 11. Three buildings housing 13 aircraft were destroyed, though airport Operations Manager Nick Barker told AOPA that the staff and local pilots were counting their blessings that nobody was hurt at the airport.

A massive, long-track tornado that cut a 200-mile swath of destruction across Kentucky in the predawn hours of December 11 destroyed three buildings housing 18 T-hangars at Danville Boyle County Airport-Stuart Powell Field. Photo courtesy of Nick Barker.

"We're all heartbroken over our little airplanes and our little hangars," Barker said in a telephone interview December 13. He had sought shelter at home as the twister roared through his Kentucky community, about 40 miles south of Lexington, and headed for the airport soon after the tornado passed to investigate a report that a piece of roof material was lying on the road. He found a lot more debris and wreckage where that came from, but nobody was injured or killed on the airfield. "That's the main thing, that nobody was hurt."

Barker said the airport was back in service "as of now," with fuel available and clear runways. The tornado cut across the north side of the airport, destroying 18 T-hangars in three buildings, along with 13 single-engine piston aircraft housed inside, though it missed other structures including the operations building and hangars containing other aircraft including medevac aircraft. Barker said there was still plenty of work to be done to get things back in order.

"It's still a complete mess," Barker said. One of the Piper Cherokees lost to the tornado strike belongs to his family, though he remained grateful that there was no loss of life, and much of the airport infrastructure sustained minimal damage. "It could have been much worse."

Danville Boyle County Airport—Stuart Powell Field posted photos on the airport Facebook page as the cleanup effort began, with a few more the following day. One, showing an aircraft engine on a hoist with an American flag that is pictured as it was found, not staged, the post notes: "When everything else fell, it remained. That is our reminder to keep moving forward and we will."

Barker said that offers of help had flooded in from individual pilots, other airports, and Experimental Aircraft Association chapters, though it was still too soon to say what help, exactly, would be needed. After reopening the airport, the next order of business was to wait until insurance adjusters could arrive, and with widespread damage extending along multiple tornado tracks that struck several states, it was not clear how quickly that could happen.

"They all want to be involved and help some way, it's just we don't really know what that is yet," Barker said of the offers of assistance from the aviation community.

Damage assessments were ongoing across Kentucky and surrounding states, and Federal Emergency Management Agency staff were on the ground, along with National Guard troops and others. The official toll in Kentucky climbed to 64 lives lost by December 13, though more than 100 people remained unaccounted for in the state hardest hit by the tornado outbreak.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Public Benefit Flying, Weather

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