Mosquito pilot cleared after inquiry into Ravenel Bridge scare

A pilot spraying for mosquitoes near the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge has been cleared of any wrongdoing after drivers called 911 saying they feared his aircraft might hit the span.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it reviewed the flight of pilot Tommy Phillips of Williamsburg Air Service and determined there was no evidence that aviation regulations were violated.

As a result of its inquiry, the FAA said changes were made to the route flown for the mosquito-spraying to help alleviate public concerns. The new route has been flown once without public complaint, the agency said in an email.

When contacted by phone Monday, Phillips said he wasn't doing anything wrong during the flight so there was no need to make changes. The owner of Williamsburg Air, Guy McClary, said the FAA told the company to do the “neighborly thing” when it sprayed.

“In other words, do the best you can,” McClary said.

He said the company was flying legally April 17 when it was spraying for mosquitoes on Drum Island next to the bridge.

Cathy Critser of Summerville was among those who dialed 911 when she saw the plane and its direction of travel.

“I think it caught a lot of people off guard,” she said.

Critser said the plane's proximity to the bridge made her nervous because the Boston bombings happened two days before. She said drivers were stopping on the bridge because of the aircraft.

She suggested that officials place signs on the bridge to let people know when mosquito spraying is happening.

Critser said she trusts the FAA, but the results of its inquiry don't change how she felt at the time of the incident. Phillips called Critser to say he was very sorry for scaring her, she said.

Gary Paddock of Mount Pleasant said he also called 911 on April 17 because of the plane's proximity to the bridge.

“If the result is that the sprayer will fly a different and safer route, then I think that we got done what was needed,” he said.

Williamsburg Air was conducting a standard flight near the bridge for the Charleston County Mosquito Control Division, the county said at the time of the incident. The pilot was operating within established guidelines that enable the plane to fly low to treat mosquito larvae, the county said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.

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