Aviation program was moved to Yakima after summer incident

Nicholas Tucker and Mariah Valles

Editor’s Note: This story was updated from its original form. 


On June 24, a CWU Aviation Department plane received damage that CWU officials and police originally thought was caused by a bullet. The flight was unaffected and the student pilot reporting to CWU police said he did not know about the damage until he was called by Chief Flight Instructor Richard Bates. Now, after the completion of a crime analysis report, it has been determined it was not a bullet that hit the propeller. Due to this conclusion, the FBI did not investigate and all operations were restored at Bowers Field in Ellensburg at the end of July.  

Image obtained through public records.

According to public records obtained by The Observer, which covered from June until Sept. 19, the aircraft with tail number N540CW was flying northwest of Bowers Field when a high-velocity projectile hit and pierced one of its propeller blades. 

The report for this incident filed by CWU Police says that then Aviation Department Chair Greg Schwab described the damage as a “high impact strike, not a rock.” A mechanic later added that he thought it was a high velocity impact and speculated that it could have been a bullet strike.

An email sent on June 27 by CWU Chief of Staff Linda Schactler to the Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies, Paul Ballard, mentioned that damage analysis at the state crime lab was not yet complete, but that the strike was almost definitely caused by a bullet.

At the time, officers from the CWU Police Department and the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Department whom CWU Chief of Police Jason Berthon-Koch considered ballistics experts had no doubt that a bullet, not a rock, struck and pierced the propeller.

At the immediate approval of CWU President James L. Gaudino, all aviation program flights were grounded while administration and aviation department officials decided how flight operations would temporarily continue.



Emails between university and aviation department officials transitioned into discussing potential actions they could take moving forward. 

A meeting took place on June 27 between Schwab, Schactler, Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs Joel Klucking, Vice President of Public Affairs Kremiere Jackson, and Berthon-Koch. The five attendees discussed three potential options for how to move forward. 

The first would be to continue normal flight operations with no major changes other than to avoid the northwestern area of the Kittitas Valley. The second was to modify takeoff and landing patterns to avoid the northwest, conducting touch and gos in Moses Lake and Yakima instead of at Bowers Field. The third option was to move all CWU aviation program operations to Moses Lake or Yakima. 

Dozens of aviation students had already paid for summer flights and were expecting to complete those flights, including the check rides they needed to graduate.

As of July 3, five CWU Aviation Department planes and their support systems were moved to the McAllister Field in Yakima.

“We had a whole bunch of students here, over 100 students here that needed to fly and finish their courses,” Ballard said. “We only had a couple of planes down there so not everybody could be moved down there and so I think it was those the biggest need to finish on time [that were relocated].”

With a broad decision made, administration needed to figure out the logistics of moving the aviation program for the summer. With those planes came the need for hangar and classroom spaces, maintenance procedures and personnel, and transportation for students to and from Yakima. Schwab described the scale and complexity of the move by saying it “sounds like a military deployment.”

Image obtained through public records request.

“We had to do our due diligence and mitigate any kind of risk that might be out there for students,” Ballard said.  “And before we could safely say that students could go up there, we had to be sure that it was not a bullet.”

After an analysis of the damaged plane’s flight path, Bates proposed that the program be moved back to Ellensburg. Restrictions were put in place for flight paths and altitude in the area northeast of Bowers Field where the potential shot would have likely come from.

Following the report from the Kittitas County Sheriff’s office confirming that the damage was likely caused by a rock or other debris on the ground and not from a bullet, the program returned to normal operations.