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The Las Vegas Incident was an incident that involved a Cessna C172SP landing on a road at the Las Vegas Strip. The aircraft had earlier taken off from McCarran Int'l airport to fly to Henderson Executive airport. Having overshot that airport, the Cessna then turned towards the Las Vegas Strip, landing in a storm.

Incident

Background

The aircraft, N6819H, was registered to Toby Colbert at the time of the incident. Colbert was a former pilot for World Travel Airlines before he resigned. He bought a Cessna with his own money and moved to Las Vegas.

On the day of the incident, there was a light, windy rainstorm at Las Vegas, with winds from the west (perpendicular to the strip). The original flight plan took the aircraft from McCarran Int'l Airport to Henderson Executive Airport via IFR (instrument flight range). The flight ceiling was 5,000 ft AGL.

15:30:04

The aircraft got lost during taxi, yet received guidance to runway 7L. It was cleared for takeoff at 15:33:04 PDT.

The aircraft was flying as planned to Henderson, over the highway. Soon a turn would be needed to line up with runway 35L at Henderson. At this point, the aircraft's transponder was turned off by Colbert. The Air Traffic Controller at Las Vegas Approach originally thought that the aircraft had lost contact and suffered a transponder failure. The ATC contacted Colbert, and Colbert reassured the ATC. A short time later, however, Colbert cut radios in the aircraft. The ATC, not knowing about the radio failure, gave instructions for the aircraft to turn to a heading of 360, leading it to Henderson.

After Colbert filed to respond, the ATC cautioned aircraft in the local airspace that a Cessna 172 had lost radios and transponder, and to watch out for it.

Colbert then turned off all external lights on the Cessna 172, rendering it invisible. Yet still, the aircraft flew to Henderson. In fact, the tower controller at Henderson did not see the aircraft until it was on final for runway 35L. The controller gave Colbert permission to land, just in case he could still receive transmissions.

Then, the Cessna landed on runway 35L. However, instead of slowing down, the aircraft sped up, taking off again from Henderson Executive's runway 35R at 15:49:48 PDT. (This is known as a touch-and-go in aviation terminology.)

15:49:48

Having taken off from Henderson, Colbert then climbed to 6,000 ft AGL and turned southwest towards the Strip. At that time, Henderson contacted Las Vegas Approach, who then contacted Nellis AFB. Nellis said that an single F-16 would be dispatched in the worst case scenario. The F-16 was scrambled, however; too slowly.

After Colbert turned to The Strip, he stayed on that heading for ten minutes. There were fears that he would crash into the Stratosphere hotel, but the fears were wrong. After he was near the Stratosphere, he turned sharply to the left, now heading southbound on the Strip.

At 16:00:32, Colbert started descending towards the Northern part of the Strip. Drivers and pedestrians below saw the aircraft heading towards them and vacated the area for fear of suicide attack. Traffic had stopped. Colbert lowered flaps and made a crosswind touchdown at 16:03:57. The aircraft landed on the left lane, and nearly in the heart of the strip, between Bally's and the Bellagio.

ATC/Communications

N6818H: Las Vegas Clearance Delivery, Cessna November six niner one eight hotel requesting IFR to Henderson.

Las Vegas Clearance Delivery (118.000): November six niner one eight hotel is cleared to Henderson as filed. Fly runway heading, climb and maintain five-thousand. Departure is one two five point oh two, squak seven four seven six.

18H: Cleared to Henderson. Squak seven four seven six, climb five thousand. Fly runway heading, departure is on one two five point oh five.

LVCD: Readback is correct, contact ground on one two one nine. Have a good flight.

(A pause as Colbert tunes the radio)

18H: Las Vegas Ground, Cessna November six nniner one eight hotel ready to taxi IFR.

Las Vegas Ground (121.900): One eight hotel, taxi to and hold short of runway seven left.

18H: To seven left. One eight hotel copies.

(A pause as Colbert taxis)

LVG: One Eight Hotel, you are going the wrong way.

18H: Oh, sorry. One eight hotel copies.

(Colbert taxis to runway seven left, holds)

LVG: Contact Las Vegas Tower on one one niner point niner, have a nice day.

18H: To tower, one one niner niner. Thank you.

(Colbert tunes again.)

18H: Las Vegas Tower, Cessna November six niner one eight hotel is holding at sevel left, IFR to Henderson.

Las Vegas Tower (119.900): One eight hotel, cleared for takeoff, runway seven right.

18H: Cleared for the seven right. Cessna one eight hotel.

(Colbert takes off)

LVT: Cessna one eight hotel, contact Las Vegas Departure on one two five point zero five. Take care.

18H: One two five point oh five. (Colbert tunes the radio) Las Vegas Departure, Cenna November six niner one eight hotel is climbing out of one thousand two hundred for five thousand.

Las Vegas Departure (125.050): Las Vegas Approach copies. Turn left heading zero four five, climb and maintain five thousand, expect vectors to runway one seven left.  

18H: Turn to zero four five, climb to five thousand, expect the seventeen left. One eight hotel.

Airwave (AWV) Flight 350: Las Vegas Departure, Airwave three five zero is climbing through six thousand for one five thousand.

LVD: Airwave three five zero, Las Vegas Departure copies. Turn left to zero four five, climb and maintain one five thousand.

AWV350: Turn left to zero four five, climb and maintain one five thousand.

LVD: Airwave three five zero, contact Los Angeles Center on one two two point niner. Take care.

AWV350: Los Angeles Center, one two two point niner, thanks.

Pacifica (PCF) Fight 1618: Las Vegas Departure, Pacifica sixteen eighteen is climbing out of seven thousand for niner thousand.

LVD: Pacifica sixteen eighteen, Las Vegas Departure copies. (A pause.) Pacifica sixteen eighteen, climb and maintain one seven thousand.

PCF1618: Climb and maintain one seven thousand, Pacifica sixteen eighteen.

LVD: One eight hotel, verify squaking seven four seven six.

18H: Ah, Las Vegas Approach, um, one eight hotel, I have a transponder malfunction.

LVD: Pacifica one six one eight, turn right to zero four five, and if you can try, look for a Cessna one seventy-two at your ten o'clock low. One eight hotel, your malfunction is recieved. Caution an MD eighty at your twelve o'clock high and a CRJ at your...on top of you, actually.

PCF1618 : Pacifica sixteen eighteen does not have traffic.

LVD : Pacifica one six one eight, traffic is directly below you. I don't think you can get a visual. One eight hotel, judging by your position, turn left to three six zero to line up with Henderson's three five left. Pacifica one six one eight, contact Los Angeles Center on one two two point niner, take care.

(A pause)

World Travel (WTA) Flight 1139: Las Vegas Departure, World Travel eleven thirty nine is climbing out of six thousand for one five thousand.

LVD: World Travel eleven thirty nine, Las Vegas Departure copies, turn left to zero four five, climb and maintain one five thousand. Caution a Cessna one seven two at your ten o'clock low.

WTA1139: Turn left to zero four five, and we'll look for the Cessna, World Travel eleven thirty nine.

(A pause)

LVD: One eight hotel, did you copy a turn to three six zero? (A pause) One eight hotel, hello? (A longer pause) One eight Hotel, do you read? This is the Las Vegas Departure ATC on one two five point zero five zero megahertz. One eight hotel? Ahh....World Travel eleven thirty nine, contact Los Angeles Center on...um...one two two point niner, take care.

WTA1139: Los Angeles Center on one two two point niner, World Travel eleven thirty nine. good luck with the Cessna.

LVD: Thanks.

(Several minutes go by. At this point, the phone at Henderson Executive Tower rings.)

Henderson Tower: Hello?

LVD: Hello, Henderson. This is Las Vegas Departure. We lost track of a Cessna one seven two headed your way. No comms, no transponder.

HST: We'll look out for it. Thanks for the advisory.

(Several more minutes go by. Henderson tower ATC's look for landing lights.)

Henderson Tower (125.100): Oh, there it is. Henderson tower to Cessna November six niner one eight hotel, if you can hear us, you are cleared to land, runway three five left. (A pause.) Oh my......no! Sir, it's taking off again. It's not...ok. (ATC is convinced by Chief Controller that the aircraft will go around. A longer pause, then the ATC's are convinced that the aircraft has real trouble. A later phone call to Las Vegas Departure) Hello, Las Vegas? Be advised, the earlier Cessna went for a touch and go on three five left, and is heading for the Stratosphere.

LVD: What...well, is he receiving? Maybe we can get an air force advisory for him to stay away from the Stratosphere. Ok, I just got some permission. We'll call Nellis. Just sit tight.

HST: Right.

Nellis AFB: You are speaking to Nellis Tower. Who is this?

LVD: this is Las Vegas Departure. Ahh...we lost contact with a Cessna one seventy-two about half an hour ago. It went for a touch and go at Henderson Executive, and is now headed for the Stratosphere. We suspect terrorism. Can you help?

NAFB: We'll have an F sixteen over. It's in our hands now.

LVD: Thank you.

(Later)

Nellis Clearance Delivery (120.900): Nellis gives Bulker three five permission for takeoff runway two one right, with intercept mission.

B35: Bulker three five, wilco. (A pause as the F-16 taxis) Bulker three five to Nellis Tower, request takeoff two one right for quick intercept.

Nellis Tower (132.550): Bulker three five, here is the sitrep, the Cessna has landed in the Las Vegas Strip between The Bellagio and Bally's. No crash. Hold on the twenty-one right.

(Audible exhaling from the pilot of Bulker 35.)

(Much later, a news helicopter)

Fox News Anchor: The issue is not whether we go to Syria or not, it's whether w-- hold on...my producer has given me some urgent news, it seems that a light aircraft has landed on the Las Vegas Strip. This is live stream from a local helicoper reporter.

Helicopter reporter: Well, it's noticiably crosswindded out here, but the plane has landed between the Bellagio and Bally's. Local--there he is. The pilot is leaving the plane and is--is headed for the sidewalk at Bally's. He is the pilot. The police have not arrived. He's walking, his arms are up. Here comee the police from the south end, near the Luxor. And SWAT. They are arriving, with rifles, and he is facing them. He's approaching--nice tackle. He has been detained. Ladies and Gentlemen of America, if you are just joining us, a light aircraft-- the pilot says it's a Cessna type one seventy-two--has just landed in the Las Vegas Strip. The pilot has been detained, and the police report no casualties. The Strip is closed, and...

Aftermath

The police and SWAT were at the area in one minute. Colbert was detained, and that area of the Strip was closed off for nine hours. At the time of the landing, the USAF F-16 was five miles out of the Metro area, and was given a message by the base that the plane had landed. News helicopters had circled the area, and Colbert's landing got national attention.

The President condemned the landing, although noting his relief that it was safely and professionally done.

Colbert is in jail for terrorism and misuse of an aircraft. He has a sixty-year sentence with chance for parole.

Of note, the traffic stop caused $2000 dollars of damage for fender-benders, and the most major injury was a broken wrist, sustained by a driver.

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