Sen. Jim Inhofe's son, Perry Inhofe, reported that his left engine was shut down and that he was having trouble controlling his airplane before he died in a plane crash Nov. 10, according to a newly released National Transportation Safety Board report.
Perry Inhofe was flying alone from Salina, Kan., to Tulsa in a twin-engine Mitsubishi MU-2B-25 built in 1974 and was cleared to land at Tulsa International Airport.
During his approach, Inhofe made a left turn and reported to the air traffic control he had a control problem. He then told the controller his left engine was out.
“The controller then declared an emergency for the pilot and asked about the number of souls on board the airplane and the fuel remaining,” the report states. “No further communications were received from the pilot.”
Witnesses reported seeing the plane make a shallow left turn between 400 and 800 feet.
“During the turn, the landing gear was in the extended position, and one engine propeller appeared not to be rotating,” according to the report.
“The airplane continued in a left turn and the wings began to rock back and forth at a 10- to 15-degree bank angle. The airplane was observed to then make a right turn, followed by a left turn, and then a steep spiral to the left.”
The plane crashed about 5 miles north of the airport and burst into flames.
Perry Inhofe, who would have turned 52 that week, worked at Central States Orthopedics in Tulsa as an orthopedic surgeon.
Following services held Thursday, Sen. Inhofe, R-Tulsa, returned to the Senate floor Monday and thanked his colleagues for their condolences.
“I had a horrible loss eight days ago, losing a son,” he said.
The type of aircraft Inhofe's son was flying has had a checkered past, though advocates of the plane claim it is one of the safest around.
Since Mitsubishi began building the MU-2B in 1967, 346 people have died in 152 crashes involving the craft, according to the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents.
Ladd Sanger, a licensed pilot and attorney, has worked on 10 lawsuits involving the aircraft and questions its safety. In situations of one-engine failure, like Inhofe's, the airplane “is sometimes impossible to handle,” he said.
Ladd said his research has shown the plane proves difficult to control at low speed, such as during take off and landing.
“The accident rate speaks for itself,” he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration reviewed the certification in of the MU-2B in 1983 and 1996 after a number of crashes but did not make any drastic recommendations for the aircraft.
However, a high number of fatal crashes in 2005 and 2006 prompted the FAA to take another look at the certification and requirements for pilots.
In the report, the FAA found accidents involving loss of control in flight were 3.5 times higher than similar twin-turboprop airplanes designed in the same era.
The FAA determined anyone flying the MU-2B must go through the equivalent of a commercial multi-engine pilot's training, which includes flying with just one engine. The certifications are done annually. Inhofe was certified as a commercial pilot.
Pat Cannon, who has logged more than 11,000 hours in the MU-2B, is the president of Turbine Aircraft Services and conducts training and demonstrations with the aircraft.
Cannon said the plane is the “safest turboprop out there,” and called claims of control problems “baloney.”
“A lot of the accidents that happened were with people who were not trained or improperly trained,” Cannon said.
He said he and Mitsubishi pushed for the stricter regulations on pilots for years before they were implemented. Since then, the airplane has only been involved in three crashes, including Inhofe's.
With proper training, Cannon said, one-engine flight should not be a problem.
“It's never a dream to fly with one engine. But an engine failure in this airplane in accordance with your training is a nonevent,” Cannon said.