STANDISH, Maine — The amateur-built plane that crash-landed on a busy road in Standish on Sunday had crashed at least once before, an investigation by Portland television station WGME, CBS 13, found.
A report from the National Transportation Safety Board noted that the same aircraft, still registered to pilot Billy Werth, crashed into a stand of trees two years ago during an airshow in Indiana, where the plane is registered.
The board report cited a self-acknowledged “misjudgment” by the pilot as “the primary cause of the accident” in that case.
Werth told CBS 13 he left an airshow in Frenchville on Sunday, then realized he had an engine problem and needed a place to land. He says his first concern was avoiding several cars on Route 35, which he was able to do.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of choice on where to set the airplane down,” Werth told the station. “There were four cars on the road, that I could see coming at me, but they were behind the trees so I knew they wouldn’t see me. I tried to fly it a little longer so I could miss those cars, which I did, so nobody got hurt.”
An investigation into federal records by CBS 13 determined that there were 132 accidents in the U.S. involving amateur-built aircraft over the past year, 40 of which were deadly crashes, killing a total of 51 people.
Sunday’s crash landing in Standish was the first such incident involving an amateur-built plane in the past year in Maine, but the station found that 17 crashes involving that type of aircraft occurred in the state since 2000, including a deadly crash in Mercer back in 2002.
In that case, pilot Daniel Blake, 47, of Farmingdale, hit a steel cable suspended over the Sandy River. The Federal Aviation Administration at the time identified Blake’s plane as a Rans S-12 Airaile, a single-engine, two-seat plane built from a kit.
The FAA wouldn’t comment to CBS 13 on the safety of amateur-built planes, but did tell the station every one of the aircraft is inspected before being certified as “airworthy.”
CBS 13 reported that Werth’s single-engine plane was inspected by the FAA after it was built in 2007. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board continue to investigate Sunday’s crash.