Mystery Occupants Of Crashed Piper Tri-Pacer Apparently Were Not Injured


A lot remains unclear about how—and even when—a 1953 Piper Tri-Pacer ended up on its back on the property of Tahlequah (Oklahoma) Municipal Airport (KTQH). The good news is that the two so-far-unidentified people on board, reportedly a 75-year-old man and his son, are uninjured and back home in Texas. But how and when they arrived at KTQH—and how they happened to be flying the airplane in the first place—remain a mystery.

Last Wednesday (Dec. 8) another pilot flying out of the airport noticed the upended Tri-Pacer in an “obscure area” of brush on the airport property, not near the runway. When the acting airport manager Greg Blish arrived at the scene, there was no sign of the occupants and no evidence of injury, he said. An airport employee told AVweb the footprint of the city-owned airport is “very large.” He also confirmed that reports published on the Tahlequah Daily Press news site were accurate, and that Blish believed the airplane ran out of fuel. He also said they had heard that the Tri-Pacer had departed from Wisconsin. The airport management is understandably cautious about discussing the situation until more of the facts come to light. Besides the FAA, the Tahlequah Police and Fire Departments are investigating along with Emergency Management and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

FAA registration records show the airplane is still registered to a Wisconsin man, who first registered it in 2014. But, Blish said that he spoke with that owner, who told him the airplane had been sold to an auction house in August, though FAA records still show him as the registered owner, having renewed the paperwork in 2019. The FAA’s inquiry into who might have bought the Tri-Pacer is still unresolved, but there is no immediate evidence that the aircraft has been re-registered.

Blish told the news outlet that “after much phone calling,” he subsequently tracked down someone at an unnamed Texas airport who said he believed the two men were flying the airplane there. Blish also told the news outlet that he had spoken with the father, who told him that, after the crash, they tried to report the accident, but found the airport office closed. “But he didn’t leave a note or call the number on the door,” Blish said. The two men took a taxi into town and called a relative for a ride to their home in Texas. Tahlequah is about 175 miles from the Texas border.

“It’s kind of a bizarre story, really,” said Blish.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. As a line boy in the late 60s a tripacer taxied up to our fuel pumps. A woman jumped out the pax side and ran into our office. She was very unhappy. Turns out I Put 36.5 gallons of fuel in the Piper. I think it’s usable is 36. It took the pilot a lot of coaxing to get the passenger to continue. In another incident a tripacer driver showed up in a taxi because he could not find the airport in the fog. When the fog cleared we could see the Piper in a soy bean field just outside the airfield fence. I asked An experienced old pilot once about the stubby winged pacers glide ratio. He replied that you threw a cook stove out the door and followed it down. That is the extent of my tri pacer knowledge.

    • Thanks, Harry,
      The auction entry indicates the airplane was sold, but does not include a date, which would help in solving the puzzle. We will update this story as more facts come in, which they undoubtedly will.

  2. According to the event date at the bottom of oage it was Aug 2
    This item is part of Flying Airplanes, Project Planes and Parts Auction
    Monday, Aug 2, 2021 | 10:00 AM Central

  3. “Besides the FAA, the Tahlequah Police and Fire Departments are investigating along with Emergency Management and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.”
    Have they nothing else to do?

    • “___, ___, and ___ are investigating” could be code for “Calls have been made to these agencies.” I can almost hear the b&w movie-desk sergeant response from each: “Right, we’ll get someone on it.”