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Plane lands wheels up

A Cal-Ore Life Flight airplane touched down without landing gear last night and slid several hundred feet on its belly before coming to a stop at Del Norte County Airport.

No one was injured and there was no fuel spill as a result of the crash landing, which occurred shortly after 6 p.m. The disabled plane shut down one of the airport's two runways for several hours.

The twin-engine Piper Cheyenne air ambulance was returning to Crescent City from Medford, Ore., after transporting a patient to a hospital there, according to Dan Brattain, owner of Cal-Ore Life Flight.

Only the crew – pilot, Steve Curry, and an unidentified flight nurse – were aboard the plane when it landed. Curry is an experienced pilot who has flown more than 800 air ambulance missions for Cal-Ore Life Flight, Brattain said.

"We've never had an incident like this before," Brattain said.

The cause of the crash landing was still under investigation last night. The extent of damage to the airplane was also undetermined.

While approaching the Crescent City airport prior to last night's belly landing, the pilot said nothing to the flight tower about any problems with the plane.

"I need to debrief the pilot and inspect the plane before I could say what caused it," Brattain said.

Del Norte County Sheriff's Sgt. Alissa Mehlhoff, who was in charge of the emergency response effort at the airport last night, said propeller marks in the runway indicated that the plane slid about 700 feet on its belly before stopping.

Crews used jacks and straps to lift the plane off the runway before towing it into a hangar late last night.

The Piper Cheyenne involved in last night's crash landing is a 300-mph, fully pressurized airplane. It is one of four air ambulances operated out of Crescent City by Cal-Ore Life Flight, which acquired the plane only about three months ago.

Brattain said he expects that the plane will be repaired and placed back in service.

Cal-Ore Life Flight has been operating air ambulance services out of Del Norte County Airport since the 1970s and logs 400-plus missions a year. The company also flys out of Gold Beach, Ore.

In 2000, Brattain was honored as Oregon's emergency medical services administrator of the year, in large part because of Cal-Ore Life Flight's excellent service and safety record.

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