Stearman Pilot Found Guilty of False Statements in Water Crash

Former airline pilot admits lying to federal authorities regarding the Oklahoma biplane accident in summer 2022.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol recovered the Boeing Stearman PT-17 biplane from Keystone Lake on August 28, 2022. [Courtesy: Oklahoma Highway Patrol]

A former airline pilot has admitted lying to federal authorities regarding the crash of a Stearman biplane he was flying with a passenger in Oklahoma in summer 2022.

Former United Airlines pilot Bruce Forbes, 66 at the time, initially told authorities the Stearman experienced engine trouble on a sightseeing flight over a lake and he struck power lines while he was trying to troubleshoot the engine issues. On Monday, he pled guilty in federal court to misrepresenting the facts.

“I was flying low over the water around the curves of Lake Keystone and struck power lines, causing the plane to crash into the lake," Forbes told the court. "I believed if I told NTSB investigators the truth, their investigation would find that I was flying in an unsafe manner, and I would have difficulty receiving insurance payments.”

Last December, an Oklahoma grand jury indicted Forbes on two counts of making false statements and one count of obstructing a government proceeding. The indictment cited statements Forbes made to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) between August 27 and September 30, 2022, and alleged false statements on October 2, 2023, to a special agent of the Department of Transportation–Office of the Attorney General.

His passenger, 19-year-old Baily Nevill, told local news outlets that, before the flight, she had not received a safety briefing on how to unfasten her safety belt. Describing the accident, she said Forbes was demonstrating “water dancing” low over the surface of the lake before striking the power lines and crashing into the water.

Nevill said Forbes tried to pull her from her seat, but “we were sideways, and the water was rising. We were in the middle of the lake. He was screaming at me. And once the water got above my chest, Bruce then decided to let go of me and swim away.”

Nevill was unsure how she finally freed herself from the belt and swam to the surface. Boaters rescued both occupants and brought them safely to shore.

The court has not set a sentencing date, and Forbes could be facing up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He declined to comment on the case to local news outlets.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on AVweb.

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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