A military cargo jet carrying the U.S. Air Force Academy women’s basketball team damaged a regional airport runway when it allegedly landed without prior authorization in Stillwater, Oklahoma, city officials said Thursday.
The C-17 Globemaster aircraft is 45 tons heavier than the runway’s maximum weight capacity, city officials said in a news release. The plane touched down at the airport Sunday, the city said, ahead of a game against Oklahoma State University on Tuesday.
“Airport staff have temporarily patched surface damage to the runway and taxiways but must have the sub-surface assessed for potential long-term damage,” the statement said. The city didn’t give an estimate of the repair costs.
City officials say all charter flights are required to receive permission prior to using the airport — but in this case, prior approval was neither requested nor granted.
However, U.S. Air Force officials on Thursday disputed the city’s characterization, saying the flight was coordinated with airport officials five days before the landing.
“The actual cause of the damage is unknown at this time,” 2nd Lt. Marjorie Schurr, chief of public affairs for the Air Force’s 911th Airlift Wing, said in an email to The Associated Press. “Internal Air Force reports indicate that the aircraft was within weight limits of triple-tandem landing gear and that the flight was coordinated with airport officials prior to landing.”
Stillwater officials say that in October, the U.S. Air Force Academy baseball team requested to land at the airport with the same type of aircraft but were denied due to weight limits.
Stillwater spokesperson Dawn Jones says airport officials have asked the Federal Aviation Administration to open an investigation into the incident. Messages left Thursday with the FAA were not immediately returned.
Dean Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Academy, said military aircraft are often used to transport college players as a way to both save taxpayer money and support required military airlift training.
“When military airlift is unpractical or unavailable, commercial airline tickets are purchased,” Miller wrote in an email to the AP.