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.