Air Traffic Trouble?

April 4, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fresno Police are changing the way they operate. An Action News investigation revealed officers were lighting illegal fireworks just as planes took off from the Fresno Airport.The K-9 officers at the facility near Fresno-Yosemite International Airport that evening have all been under internal investigation. The investigation has ended and the chief said several department policies were violated. Needless to say no more aerial fireworks will be going off anytime soon.

"We heard it in the tower, it rattled the window," said Carl Sagerquist who has been directing air traffic for 27 years. He captured a picture of one of the explosions minutes after FAA officials say two aerial fireworks came close to departing planes.

"We saw the explosion but this one didn't leave the ground when the airplane was directly above it. With that type of timing, and it's my personal opinion that these airlines were being targeted," said Sagerquist.

Audio tapes just released between the Fresno tower and departing commercial flights show the pilots concern as the fireworks went off.

Pilot: "Somebody just launched a firework up by the departure end of the runway."

Pilot: "Somebody lit off some fireworks and we actually went through the smoke."

Traffic controller: "OK thanks."

Pilot: "You're welcome."

The source of the concern: Fresno Police Department officers at the adjacent K-9 training facility. The department said the blasts were part of a training exercise. But multiple sources told Action News the fireworks had nothing to do with any part of training.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer has said peace officer rights prevent him from discussing whether any officer will face punishment, but clearly some department policies were violated. "Rest assured that any inappropriate behavior that's been determined by the investigation will be dealt with and corrective measures will be taken for any inappropriate behavior that's been identified."

Sagerquist remembers the night well, and those first thoughts when he saw the unusual explosions, "My initial reaction is they can't be doing this now, not after September 11."

The illegal fireworks, supplied to the Police Department by the Fire Department, went up several hundred feet in the air in the direct course of departing planes.

Traffic controller: "In fact, I just saw another one. Eagle 550 did you see that?"

Pilot: "Oh yeah, totally we got a fireworks show here about 100 feet above the cockpit."

The police chief said his investigation has led to at least one change for sure, no more aerial pyrotechnics. "It has caused us to change our policies internally. For example, there will be no aerial fireworks that will be utilized by the Fresno Police Department as part of any training exercise," said Dyer.

Ironically what the air traffic controller didn't know when he called Fresno Police to investigate the fireworks was that he was essentially calling them to investigate themselves.

The police chief said 17 officers were interviewed at length as part of the investigation.


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