On October 31, 2015, student pilot Brian Woodhams lost control of his Piper Cherokee while landing at the Perry-Warsaw Airport in upstate New York, approximately 60 miles southeast of Buffalo. The aircraft departed the runway and ended up with its nose in a ditch.
Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr.’s office said in a news release that Woodhams was carrying his 15-year-old son as a passenger at the time of the accident, a charge the student pilot initially denied. Federal regulations stipulate that a student pilot may only share the cockpit with another fully licensed pilot who acts as PIC.
During the initial investigation by FAA safety personnel, Woodhams claimed to be alone at the time of the accident and that his son, who was treated for injuries at the scene, ran to the airplane following the accident. A few days after the Halloween accident, investigators confronted Woodhams with an eyewitness statement that claimed to see the young boy inside the aircraft just after the accident, a claim the pilot again denied.
Woodhams filed an incident report with the NTSB 10 days after the accident indicating he was flying alone.
In January 2016, Woodhams was interviewed by a special agent from the DOT and stuck to his story of being alone in the cockpit, but for an unexplained reason entered a guilty plea a few weeks ago while appearing before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo in Buffalo. The charge against the pilot carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The guilty plea is the result of an investigation by the Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General, and the Federal Aviation Administration, the agencies said. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 3.