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The Tortoise and the Jet : Reptilian Interloper Stops Show With Shuffle Across Burbank Runway

Times Staff Writer

The incident was officially recorded as FOD. That’s short for foreign object damage, a military term that doesn’t come close to expressing the silliness of what happened Friday morning at Burbank Airport.

The foreign object referred to was nothing but a turtle--actually, a desert tortoise--that wandered onto a runway in front of a PSA jetliner getting ready to take off for Sacramento.

The tortoise didn’t really cause any damage, but it did undo the usually grim atmosphere around an airport that is perennially at odds with homeowners over noise and has been moving ever so slowly for years toward compliance with an FAA order to move its 56-year-old terminal farther from the runways.

The incident began just before 9:30 a.m. when pilot Bill Mizicko brought his taxiing British Aerospace Equipment 146 jetliner to a stop at the north end of the airport’s north-south runway.

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The pilot radioed the tower that he couldn’t take off because there was a turtle in his way.

PSA operations agent Mike Thompson later said the only thing in jeopardy at that moment was the nine-inch-long turtle, but “we held off three minutes for animal humanity.”

Airport officer Jayp Massiet was dispatched to the runway to remove the obstacle. The flight got off with hardly a break in stride. Massiet, as the person with possession, entertained the idea of adopting the turtle as a pet.

But he lost out to airport courier Linda Coleman.

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Adoption as Pet

As she recalled it, Massiet called home and asked his wife, “You know how you said the baby was too young for a dog? How about a turtle?”

She said no.

“Since I was there, I got second choice,” Coleman said.

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Coleman named her turtle Runway. If, as a telephone consultation with a turtle expert suggested, Runway turned out to be a girl, she’d add an “a,” Coleman said.

For the rest of the day, Runway lumbered happily around the carpeted office of the airport’s information officer, Deborah Cohen, who giddily passed on to local news media a rash of jokes about Runway.

“Burbank had an unexpected new arrival,” she said. “And it passes our noise regulation.”

Cohen also reported that she queried the airport’s operations and maintenance manager, Alan Hyde, whether Runway could have been the same turtle who showed up in 1975, and he replied, “I don’t know because we didn’t take fingerprints.”

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“We’ve adopted a new mascot, indicative of our progress over the last few years,” pronounced Thomas Greer, director of airport services.

Thompson, PSA’s operations agent, apparently hadn’t learned what had become of the turtle.

“They’re probably giving it an animal sobriety test,” he speculated.


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