investigators were on scene of the crash of a Mitsubishi MU-2B-25 near Owasso, Okla., that claimed the life of Sen. James Inhofe’s 52-year-old son, Perry Inhofe.
Perry Inhofe, an orthopedic surgeon, was the pilot and sole person aboard the aircraft that crashed around 3:45 p.m. on Nov. 10. The 1974 model twin turboprop, N856JT, had departed Salina, Kan. and crashed into a heavily wooded area while on approach to Runway 18L of Tulsa International Airport. The aircraft was consumed by a post-impact fire, NTSB says.
Perry Inhofe apparently had just acquired the aircraft in the weeks leading up to the government shutdown – it is still listed in’s Registry as belonging to Intermountain Powersports – and is believed to have had 12 hr. in type. The flight is believed to have been his first following training on the aircraft. NTSB Investigator Aaron Sauer confirmed that the pilot had been training on the aircraft in Kansas before the flight. However, he could not say whether that training involved the use of simulators.
Reports indicate that the aircraft lost an engine in flight, and Inhofe contacted air traffic control for assistance, but Sauer could not yet confirm those reports. NTSB is still reviewing ATC communications and is in the process of interviewing several witnesses who observed the flight, he says. NTSB has boxed theTPE331 engines and propellers, and did find the left engine propeller in the feathered position.
The aircraft was not equipped with either a cockpit voice or flight data recorder. In addition to witness interviews, NTSB is reviewing maintenance records and the pilot’s background. “Weather at this point we don’t believe to be a factor,” Sauer says. NTSB is working with FAA, Mitsubishi and Honeywell on the investigation.
The MU-2 at one point had among the worst, if not the worst, safety record among turboprops, prompting FAA to conduct a comprehensive review of the high-performance aircraft. FAA ultimately concluded the aircraft met the applicable certification requirements, but mandated specific ground and flight training to help pilots with the unique handling qualities of the aircraft.
Since that time the MU-2’s record has become safer than the industry average, according to safety expert Robert Breiling of Robert E. Breiling Associates. The MU-2’s accident record over the past five years is 1.35 per 100,000 hr., compared with the overall turboprop accident record of 1.55 per 100,000 hr. Likewise, the MU-2’s fatal accident rate is 0.23 per 100,000 hr., compared with an overall turboprop rate of 0.30 per 100,000 hr. over the last five years.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association released a statement expressing sadness at the news of the accident. “Sen. Inhofe is an accomplished pilot and a staunch advocate for general aviation, and flying has been an important part of the Inhofe family’s personal and professional lives for decades,” says AOPA President Mark Baker.
Sen. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a longtime general aviation advocate, has fought on behalf of the industry on a number of issues, ranging from product liability reform to user fees. He most recently pushed a Pilot’s Bill of Rights through Congress to bolster pilots’ ability to access information during enforcement cases.
The senator himself has been involved in a few airplane incidents, including one in which he looped a Vans R-V on the ground and another when the propeller fell off his Grumman Tiger while in flight. Inhofe was able to safely land the Tiger and later recovered the propeller.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also issued a statement following the crash. “I was deeply saddened to learn that Senator Jim Inhofe’s son Perry was killed in a plane crash this weekend,” Hagel says. “The entire DOD community stands with the Inhofe’s at this tragic time, with enduring appreciation for all they do on behalf of our military.”
Sen. Inhofe is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
(This article has been updated to reflect an interview with an NTSB investigator.)