Pilots returned, one by one, to Bermuda High Soaring in Jefferson, S.C. By about 5 p.m. on July 26, 2012, the lift had died and everyone had returned to the gliderport—everyone except Robin Fleming. No one remembered hearing from Fleming since 1:30 or 2 p.m., and Jayne Ewing Reid, co-owner and chief tow pilot of the glider club and commercial operation, was worried.
She called pilots who lived in the region and asked them to try to contact Fleming on their handheld radios. She flew the club’s Piper Pawnee in the direction of Fleming’s last known radio call, but found no evidence of the missing glider or its pilot.
“This is when you get that feeling that something’s not right,” she said. Fleming always called if he landed out. Worried that something had happened to Fleming, an avid glider pilot and instructor at Bermuda High, Jayne Ewing Reid and business partner Frank Reid decided to file a missing airplane report. Neither suspected that Fleming was in trouble with the law.
Fleming, 70, had been arrested for breach of peace after flying his Rolladen-Schneider LS8-18 sailplane noiselessly over the H.B. Robinson Nuclear Generating Station at an altitude of 1,518 feet msl—by his estimates, about 1,000 feet over the power plant’s dome—on his way to search for lift at nearby Lake Robinson.
No airspace restrictions were printed on sectional charts; no notam marked the area off-limits. When a woman at Hartsville Regional Airport relayed over the Unicom that law enforcement wanted him to land, he had flown to that airport and landed, greeted by a swarm of law enforcement vehicles.
Nonetheless, Fleming spent the night awake in a cell with 11 other inmates. The next afternoon, still in custody, he discovered the details of the charges: “flying very close to the nuclear plant dome in a ‘no fly zone,’” “escalated a multi-jurisdictional call out to a homeland security situation,” “ordered several times to land,” “causing the disturbance throughout the community.”
He finally left the detention center 24 hours after his arrest, exhausted and eager to clear his name. The charges were dropped the next month, but now Fleming wants to make sure no other pilots are subjected to a similar ordeal.
The local police didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory here.