By Amanda Joerndt
After a small aircraft was spotted circling Stambaugh Stadium during Youngstown State University’s football game on Sept. 28, safety and legal concerns are on the rise, leading to an investigation through the Federal Aviation Administration and the YSU Police Department.
The Penguins were playing Robert Morris University on Saturday evening when an unusual aircraft circled the stadium several times at extremely low altitudes, creating an unsettling feeling among the stadium audience.
As the aircraft remained at a concerning altitude, Youngstown Approach, the air traffic control tower located at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, immediately contacted the YSU Police Department regarding the aircraft.
The FAA stated the case will remain open for further investigation.
Elizabeth Cory, an FAA public affairs representative, said the FAA considers several factors when leading an investigation.
“We pull radar tapes, we do interviews, we look at a variety of issues,” Cory said. “That’s what we do and we don’t put a timeline on these investigations. … They take as long as they need.”
According to Chris Tornello, owner of the aircraft, he was not flying the plane and was in Tennessee during the incident.
Tornello said he will not be taking any further action toward the pilot and it will be up to the FAA Cleveland Flight Standards District Office to take any remedial action.
“The flight track of the aircraft was tracked by [the] Youngstown tower. That information will be submitted [to] the Cleveland system,” Tornello said. “Cleveland will review the track and then they will interact with the pilot as necessary.”
According to Tornello, there were no flight restrictions over Stambaugh Stadium at the time, and speculation during the event regarded the altitude of the aircraft.
“There was no temporary flight restrictions over YSU at the time the pilot flew by,” Tornello said.
Tornello said the pilot of the aircraft at the time was very experienced, but he cannot confirm the name of the pilot at this time.
“It was my airplane rented out to another very experienced pilot,” Tornello said. “I just want to make it clear that it was not a student pilot.”
According to YSU Police Chief Shawn Varso, this was the first time an aircraft incident has occurred at the university.
“This incident was new for us,” Varso said. “I can’t recall anyone ever speaking of an aircraft flying that low around the stadium before.”
An investigation is in place with the FAA regarding the concerning measures of the aircraft’s proximity to the stadium, along with an investigation in the works through the YSU Police Department.
Varso said he followed up with the FAA on Monday to go through the different components of the report.
“We have the owner of the aircraft, we know where the plane landed, we have a general idea of who the pilot is, but we’re still verifying that as part of the investigation,” Varso said. “The pilot was flying very low in this case.”
Along with the FAA investigation, the YSU Police Department is taking measures to look into potential charges against the incident.
“We are doing a parallel investigation to see if there’s anything criminal that occured and will be confirming with the city prosecutor’s office to see if there are charges warranted in this case,” Varso said.
According to Varso, the biggest concern during the aircraft’s circulation was the it’s proximity to the stadium.
“Our main concern was that they contact the pilot and get him out of the area and the immediate vicinity of the area,” Varso said. “He was very close to the light tower and the press box area, and that’s where our concern laid with it.”
Varso said the university’s emergency plan is tailored for any type of emergency situations, even for plane crash circumstances.
“We were in the process of reviewing those with what to do in the event of an emergency situation as that was going on,” Varso said. “We were getting ready to implement part of that plan had it gone worse than what had happened.”
Ron Cole, public information officer for YSU, said a plane flying at a significantly lower altitude is definitely a concern for the university.
“We’re obviously very happy that there wasn’t anything beyond that, but what we’re committed to doing is aggressively investigating this and doing whatever it is we need to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Cole said.
Cole said the YSU Police Department is conducting interviews to figure out more extensive details of the incident.
“At that point, make a determination and consultation with the city prosecutor on what to do moving forward in terms of action or criminal charges,” Cole said.