Navy: Skydivers lucky to have not landed in highly restricted areas on Kings Bay
By TERRY DICKSON | The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville | Published: August 15, 2012
The two skydivers who landed Sunday on a Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base softball field were very fortunate to have not landed in one of the base’s more restricted areas, the Navy said Tuesday.
“There are highly restricted areas on this base that would be extraordinarily dangerous for them to intrude on,’’ base public affairs officer Scott Bassett said.
Because it is home to Ohio-class submarines with ballistic missiles, Kings Bay has very effective security to protect those assets, he said.
Bassett did not say what could have happened if the skydivers — who were blown off course — had drifted into those areas rather than a softball field.
He did say, however, “Our security is very robust. The Marines are highly trained to do their jobs.”
The Navy has long said the St. Marys Airport, which is virtually next door, was a safety concern, but after two other skydivers landed on the base just over two years ago the Navy said it had become a security concern.
That was one of the justifications cited by proponents of relocating the airport to a donated site near Woodbine, but that proposal is not considered feasible because of financing.
The two Savannah skydivers who jumped with The Jumping Place, which flies from the St. Marys Airport, had no identification and were taken into custody by base security until someone produced it, Bassett said.
“We’ve had seven skydivers to land on this installation in three years.’’
That frequency notwithstanding, the Navy is not getting accustomed to tourists falling from the sky and wants it to stop, Bassett said.
So does the St. Marys Airport Authority, which will hold a meeting on the subject next week, authority chairman Jay Stanford said.
Authority attorney Jim Stein said the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and Cathy Kloess, owner of The Jumping Place, should all be invited.
The DOT is the state pass-through agency for federal airport funding and some administrative matters.
The Navy has said it will send a representative and Stanford said he is hopeful the base will provide some guidance.
Stanford said the problems go beyond Kings Bay.
“That’s just out there,’’ he said of the Navy base landings. “That’s not all the misses of the airport.”
Kloess told the Times-Union she wants to expand the business because she loves St. Marys and wants to bring more people to the city.
That may make the chamber of commerce happy, but it worries Stanford.
“What happens if we continue to allow this and it gets bigger?” he said of the off-course skydivers.
The airport authority’s hands are tied to some degree because it must allow aviation and skydiving is among the covered operations, Stanford said.
Safety concerns always win out and this may qualify, he said.
Asked about Sunday’s incident, Kloess said Monday the jumpers believed they were landing on softball fields in St. Marys possibly because the latest photos she had of the base showed trees where the recreation complex is now located.
Bassett said he doubts that explanation.
A base executive officer hand-carried maps and aerial photos of the base to Kloess more than two years ago that clearly showed the softball fields, he said.
Recent photos are also available online at Google maps, he said.
There is no way anyone can look at Kings Bay from the air and take it for anything but a military base, Bassett said.
Kloess said Kings Bay officials, although stern, were understanding that the jumpers had been blown off course from the designated landing zone at the airport by an “act of God.”
Bassett said Kings Bay does not believe that Kloess fully educates her customers on the dangers of jumping near and landing on the base.
“If she [Kloess] calls this base and says she’s jumping, we say, ‘Do not land on this installation,’ ’’ Bassett said.