Belle crash, fire, BCISD ratings top Burnet 2018 stories

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Lew K. Cohn/Burnet Bulletin
One of the top Burnet stories of 2018 involved the crash of an historic plane at the Burnet Municipal Airport. Pictured here is a firefighter who sprayed foam onto the wreckage of the Bluebonnet Belle C47 Skytrain Saturday, July 21, after the aircraft crashed while attempting to take off for an air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Thirteen people aboard the plane all escaped before the plane exploded, but one was taken to a San Antonio hospital for burn injuries.






By Lew K. Cohn
Managing Editor

The loss of the beloved Bluebonnet Belle aircraft, a summer of wildfires and the BCISD's first academic accountability rating topped headlines in Burnet for 2018.

Crash of the Belle

The famed Bluebonnet Belle C47 Skytrain, which assisted in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and was an integral part of the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, crashed July 21, at Burnet Municipal Airport's Kate Craddock Field in Burnet while attempting to take off for an air show in Wisconsin.

Thirteen people were aboard the Belle, tail number N47HL, headed for the annual Oshkosh Air Show when the plane left the runway shortly after 9 a.m. and crashed before catching fire and eventually exploding. Miraculously, all 13 people aboard the craft survived the crash and made it out of the plane before the explosion.

Video footage of the Belle's takeoff taken and uploaded to Facebook by Matt Gallagher, an Austin-based pilot who was scheduled to take off after the Belle, shows the historic 1944 transport aircraft appear to struggle to get airborne, tilt right and then veer left before digging its left wing into the ground and collapsing upon its landing gear. A second video shows the Belle burning as emergency vehicles respond.
One individual was airlifted to San Antonio Military Medical Center with significant burn injuries, though witnesses at the scene reported that person was able to walk out of the crash site. Seven other individuals were transported to Seton Highland Lakes Hospital in Burnet with minor injuries.

The fire spread as well to grass along the runway. Area fire departments, especially the Burnet Fire Department, which is located next door to the airport, and the Burnet Volunteer Fire Department, responded quickly and were able to extinguish the grass fire after keeping it contained.

The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, which had agents on the ground interviewing passengers the same day. Dave Hargett, a member of the Highland Lakes Squadron, said the Belle was on its way back to 2018 EEA Air Venture Oshkosh air show, the same show where the Belle had engine trouble in 2015.

A fiery summer

In July, a rash of wildfires began taxing fire departments in Burnet, Llano, Blanco and Lampasas counties. Dry conditions, lack of precipitation and high temperatures created a perfect incubator for grassland fires to spread.

It started in Blanco County, where some 775 acres burned up in the Smith West Fire along Ranch to Market Road 962 in Round Mountain, as more than 100 personnel reported to battle the blaze.

A short time later, fire spread to County Road 308 in Llano County, consuming more than 1,800 acres. Fortunately, in both cases, no structures were were damaged and there were no reports of serious injury, though a number of firefighters had to be monitored for heat exhaustion as temperatures soared to 107 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then came fires on County Road 108 and County Road 116, the latter of which forced the evacuation of more than 150 homes and closed two major roads as well as Inks Lake State Park. Again, no one was injured or killed and no homes were reported damaged, but emergency shelters were set up at the Burnet Community Center and BCISD bus drivers helped evacuate campers from Indian Springs and transport them to safety.

As the county's fire danger index reached a high of 713 out of 800, Burnet County passed an emergency order banning all outdoor burning, including outdoor welding. Then, in August, another fire threatened 150 Horseshoe Bay residences and burned right up to the hangars at the Horseshoe Bay airport before being contained.

Accountability ratings

Final school district and campus accountability ratings for 2018 were released by the Texas Education Agency and Burnet Consolidated Independent School District received an overall score of 78, or "C," on its TEA report card.

All six campuses in the district were rated as meeting the standard in three main criteria used by TEA to evaluate performance; however, some campuses had low individual scores which barely met the minimum standard.

Burnet CISD Superintendent Keith McBurnett said the district will continue to work to improve its TEA accountability report card, but pointed out Burnet CISD is far more than a single letter grade on a rating system.

"We are not satisfied as a district until every student is performing at the highest levels possible and is well prepared to do whatever they choose to do in their future," McBurnett said. "We have a strong focus on continuous improvement and are utilizing the data gleaned from the state assessment to inform our practices, but we will not make preparing for standardized tests our sole focus, because there is more to education than a bubble test.

"The fact is a single assessment and a single letter grade does not tell the full story of Burnet CISD."

Students at Burnet CISD engage in a number of activities which cannot be measured accurately by the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), including Mandarin Chinese classes, competing at the highest level in culinary competitions, building tiny homes using advanced mathematics and participating in Socratic debates, for example.

Beginning this year, multi-campus school districts in the state of Texas received an accountability rating from TEA, based on an A-F scale based on their performance in Student Achievement, School Progress and Closing the Gaps.

Other stories which got readers' attention in 2018 include:

* Bertram Police Chief JJ Wilson agreed to resign his position after being indicted on multiple charges, including felony perjury and misdemeanor official oppression, as well as driving while intoxicated and abuse of official capacity stemming from an Oct. 24 accident on RM 1431 east of Marble Falls.

• Authorities identified the human skeletal remains found in a remote area of northwest Burnet County as those of a 40-year-old Lufkin woman, Tina Marie Logan, reported missing by her family since April. On Aug. 14, investigators found an abandoned 2005 Mazda Tribute, and following a subsequent K9 and drone search discovered the human skeletal remains in the vicinity.

• Authorities sent a human skull found in the receding Lake Buchanan shoreline Aug. 8 for forensic testing to determine identity and age of the bones. It was found by an individual on a personal watercraft as the recreationist was attempting to dock the watercraft on the shoreline in an area of Poppy's Point on the west side of the lake, just off Ranch Road 261 in Llano County.

• A Burnet resident and founder of Pecos Bill P-51 Freedom Flyers died Nov. 17 in Fredericksburg when his P-51 airplane crashed near an apartment complex on the tourist town's east side.

According to AV Web, Cowden Ward Jr. was flying the vintage World War U plane in a reenactment flight and was believed to have had a passenger who was a World War U pilot. Both he and passenger Vincent Losada, 93, of San Antonio, were killed. The crash occurred around 3:16 p.m. at Friendship Place Apartments, at 707 South Creek Street in Fredericksburg.

• UTOPiAfest held its tenth music festival in November at a new location — Reveille Peak Ranch —but not before residents who live along County Road 200 (Shady Grove Road) voiced their concerns to county officials about the festival's original proposed location near their neighborhood. The festival moved from Utopia after nine years there in order to be closer to Austin.

•Burnet County Sheriff's Office recovered several 55-gallon barrels illegally dumped into the San Gabriel River Aug. 5 behind an historic church outside Bertram. The Burnet County Sheriff's Office report stated that a church official discovered the barrels at the bottom of an embankment, floating in the river. The dried resin inside was not toxic. The county contracted with a crew to remove them. The historic church was initially an old school house in the late 1800s and became the community's church in the early 1900s.

• An "historic flood event" submerged major thoroughfares on Oct. 16 and toppled the Ranch to Market Road 2900 bridge, where the Llano River feeds into Lake LB J in the Llano County portion of Kingsland, forcing residents from waterlogged homes and forcing the Lower Colorado River Authority to open flood control gates at all major dams.

Residents in several communities, including Kingsland, Marble Falls, Meadowlakes, Granite Shoals, Highland Haven and Horseshoe Bay, were evacuated to makeshift shelters as Lake LBJ and Lake Marble Falls swelled with rising water, surpassing flooding levels last seen 21 years ago during October 1997 flooding.


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