ST. LOUIS • The same amphibious plane landing in the Mississippi River prompted St. Louis emergency crews to respond twice this week to reports of a plane crashing into the water, but the pilot says he wasn’t breaking any rules.
Rick Rief, regional sales director at Icon Aviation, was the pilot of both a Wednesday afternoon flight that touched down in the river in front of the Gateway Arch and a Thursday morning flight that landed near the Chain of Rocks Bridge.
Rief says he regularly gives demonstrations of the Icon A5, a small sport plane sold by his company.
“This is what this plane is supposed to do,” Rief said. “It’s supposed to fly low. It’s supposed to touch down in the water. It’s for adventure flying.”
But during both flights, worried onlookers thought the small plane was making an emergency landing, St. Louis Fire Department Capt. Garon Mosby said.
On Wednesday, a report of a plane in the water prompted multiple fire and police ground crews to rush to the area, and the fire department’s Marine Task Force rescue boats were sent into the river to scan for signs of wreckage or victims.
Rief said he had been in contact with the flight tower at the St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia all through the flight, but the fire department says it was never informed that a plane would be landing on the river.
On Thursday, Rief said he alerted St. Louis authorities that he would be flying again, but the fire department says firefighters never got the message. A smaller fire department response team was sent to the Chain of Rocks bridge in the morning when a call came in about a plane going into the water.
“I think there was a miscommunication on several fronts here,” said Mosby. “But I don’t think anything like this has happened before. Sometimes it takes an irregular incident to get agencies talking.”
After the second round of confusion, Rief let the fire department know he would be flying five more times Thursday and promised to give them warnings when he would be landing on water in the area in the future.
Rief said he had scheduled the demonstrations after promoting the planes at the St. Louis Boat Show, held Feb. 7 to Sunday at America’s Center Convention Complex.
A regional spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration said the agency did not believe Rief was breaking any laws by flying in either area Thursday or Wednesday.
The false alarm came about 16 years after a true emergency landing on the Mississippi River north of downtown. In April 2003, two pilots in a small cargo jet ran out of fuel and had to land in the river. One of the men had a broken nose, but both survived a hard landing that wrecked the plane in the muddy current.