On Sunday, January 9, 2005, we received a call from the Corona Airport Manager Rich Brodeur, that the water was raising on the west end of the field. He knew that my husband Pat had our aircraft down for maintenance and that it would take hours for him to get it to a point just to tow it to higher ground.
We arrived at the airport at approximately 11 p.m. Sunday night. Pat spent three hours getting the engine off the hoist and back onto the engine mount, and I began telephoning tenants of Corona Aero Partners. There are four master leaseholders on the field, with Steve Rosko owning the farthest west end hangars, then Corona Aero Partners owning the second from the west, Corona Air Ventures owning the third parcel and SVS owning the east most hangars and tie-downs.
I called tenants until 1:30 a.m., when the waters began to recede a bit. We went home around 3 a.m. and were called to return at 6 a.m., as the waters were rising rapidly. Pat helped move aircraft with many of the business owners, who had the ability to tow aircraft. Doran Machin, a pilot on the field, flew his Pilatus to Chino, intending to return immediately to Corona. Unfortunately, three of the roads between here and there were flooded and it took more than an hour to go less than 20 miles. Once he returned, he flew his Robinson helicopter back and forth from Chino and Riverside to Corona, ferrying pilots trying to get their planes off the field (See the www.kcal9.com website, scrolling on videos till you hit January 11, ?Rising Waters Engulf Corona Airport?. You will see Doran in that video in the red and white helicopter). The weather cooperated through the early part of the day, and then it began raining again; and those pilots who had thought the worst was over in the morning, realized that they could not takeoff because of weather restrictions. Rose, a DC-3 based here, was the last to get off the field that day. The airport was closed by the city on Monday late afternoon.
By Tuesday morning the water’s height exceeded mid-field, and was rising rapidly. A few pilots got off the field in the morning when the weather was clear. Once more, however, the city shut the runway. The pilots on the field encouraged the city to allow take-offs, after signing a release of liability to the city. We were able to get another dozen aircraft off the field, but then we only had about 800 foot of runway left and the city shut us down permanently. On Tuesday at 2 p.m. we lost power. Tuesday night, the waters were still rising and the Army Corp of Engineers told us that we were at 527 feet, and they expected the waters to rise another 10 feet by mid-day Wednesday, and encouraged us to get out. The front security gate was cut down and we began towing aircraft off the field and onto city streets, as well as into local parking lots. We had more than 130 aircraft out there. We moved aircraft well into the midnight hour on Tuesday.
Wednesday we were told by the Army Corp that they were going to be releasing water from the dam, but at a very slow rate, and they expected the water to be on the field for approximately ten days! The west end of the field was now 12 foot under water, with the mid-field hangars near 6 foot under. There was a lot of debris in the water (tools, couches and refrigerators that had come out of hangars) and they wanted the water to recede slowly to allow these items to settle here on the field instead of going into the dam. Water remained here for Wednesday and Thursday, topping at the 528 foot level. The Army Corp told us that the water would crest at or above 538 feet, which would put our east end under water by six foot and the west end would be 23 foot under.
Fortunately for us, the coffer dam showed leakage and the Army decided to release water a little quicker. Unfortunately for those below us, the City felt the need to evacuate those in the mobile home community and housing tract below the dam for safety sake. On Friday the evacuation of those areas began. Water was now being released at maximum levels near 10,000 cubic feet per second. This allowed the water to recede from the airport property in less than 3 days rather than 10. The dam did not break, no one below the dam was hurt and no property was lost there. It was an inconvenience for them, thankfully. However, we behind the dam sustained horrific damage.
Upstream is a sewage treatment plant which also decided to put in an appearance. Raw sewage spilled into the waters, causing yet another issue to be dealt with. Although the water receded quickly, or at least quicker than originally anticipated, the remaining sludge and silt (hereafter called silt) was a bear to deal with. Motors to hangar doors were ruined, the silt got into machinery and equipment, coating everything. Because the business owners had the majority of tow bars, and the water rose so rapidly, they assisted in moving aircraft and did not have the time to get their equipment out. For two weeks after the flood began, we did not have sewer, water or electricity. We finally got sewer and water, but the Army Corp and/or waster water management did not want us to wash our equipment and send the silt back from whence it came. They were concerned about contamination. If we washed with water, we had to have a vacuum truck to reclaim. Some would say just use a wet/dry vacuum, but remember we have no electricity. Today, February 3, 2005, we still have no electricity on half the field.
Business owners hired companies to pressure wash and reclaim the water, but again, no electricity, so no way to check their equipment to determine if it was salvageable. All offices in the hangars were destroyed, as the drywall was saturated with contaminated water. They basically stripped the hangars and began again. All this time, waiting for electricity to see if their equipment works. These valiant businesses saved us, but couldn?t save themselves.
After three weeks of being closed and cleaning up the sludge piles and contaminated debris that floated out of hangars, we opened the runway and the airport this morning. While this seems like all is now well, we still don?t have electricity to half the field and most of the major businesses still have to rebuild their shops. We have on the field paint booths that were destroyed, a cylinder shop that lost most of its big equipment, and several aircraft maintenance shops that still can?t check their equipment for lack of electricity. Many of the master leaseholders lost tenants on the field, including both private pilots and businesses that chose not to rebuild here.
In an effort to help our airport businesses and tenants, we are accepting tax deductible donations through the Corona Pilots? Association, PO Box 1212, Corona, CA 92878-1212. A few dollars here and there will definitely help the guys here get back on their feet. SBA loans may become available, but many of them just can?t take on that much of a loan to replace all their equipment.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to let you know what is going on here. Please go to http://members.dslextreme.com/users/svs52/ for more information.
Corona Pilots? Association