18 March 2015

Yeager airport fill slope failure: the landslide history

Posted by Dave Petley

Yeager Airport fill slope failure

Movement of the Yeager Airport fill slope failure appears to have ceased and the residents of Keystone Drive have now been allowed back to their homes.  There is a great deal of interest in the causes of the landslide, which remain far from clear, and in the approach that will be taken to mitigating the slope so as to protect (and presumably rebuild) the EMAS at the end of the runway.   John Boyle has been undertaking some digging into the landslide history of this site; Bill Murphy at Leeds has been kindly keeping me in the loop.  Two interesting aspects have emerged.  The first is on a Facebook site, which includes several interesting comments from past and present residents of Keystone Drive.  Key comments include the following (I have included just the key pieces of information needed to understand the site):

Robert Harrah: “…they covered up a natural spring on that hill that we played in as kids”

Terina Joe Adkins “This isn’t the first time folks. My grandparents house went over in a mudslide on Keystone 45 years ago d… Roll forward 45 years and it’s happened again…”

Kelly Stricker SpurlockTerina, I remember that. I was just a kid when that happened. I had a friend, Sharon Koon, who also lost a house then. Did your grandparents house sit on the side of the airport just above where the church was?”

Kelly Stricker SpurlockAlmost exact same spot for the slide then and now!”

Terina Joe Adkins “Kelly, yes my grandparents, Bud and Evelyn Hill’s house sat on the side of the airport just up from the church. Almost in the exact place this slide us. My mom, Barbara talks about The Koons.”

This is backed up by a newspaper report from Charleston Gazette on 19th March 1973.  Whilst the image (and indeed the caption) have not reproduced well, the implications are clear:

Yeager airport fill slope failure

Charleston Gazette, 19th March 1973


Kanawha Airport was renamed Yeager Airport.  This Google Earth image is from 2003, before the EMAS works:

Yeager Airport fill slope failure

Google Earth


Even allowing for the distortion of the image caused by the low quality ground model in Google Earth, it is no surprise that this slope has a history of landslides.  I wonder how this was taken into account in the construction of the fill slope.