The private plane that crashed Tuesday night southeast of Alcova Reservoir, killing a 49-year-old pilot, crashed two times before, federal sources show.
Brett Dean Smith, of Hyrum, Utah, was flying a Cessna 182S manufactured in 1998, Federal Aviation Administration Records show. Smith has roots in Afton, where he attended Star Valley High School, his Facebook page shows.
The plane he was flying was registered to a Kansas-based company, Hawkeye Helicopter, that performs aerial patrol and inspection work, specializing in pipeline and powerline services for the energy industry, according to the company’s website. The company last certified the fixed-wing single-engine aircraft in 2017.
Federal records show two previous crashes involving the plane. Both involved different pilots.
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In 2001, a 51-year-old pilot crashed in the same plane as Smith during a flight from Virgina to North Carolina, a National Transportation Safety Board report shows. He encountered low level turbulence during a landing approach and drifted to the left, striking a tree.
“The left wing contacted a tree and the airplane pivoted to the left. The right wing went down and contacted the runway. The propeller then contacted a tree and the airplane came to rest perpendicular to the runway,” the report states.
Substantial damage was caused to the plane, but the man was not injured.
That plane appears to have been repaired and put back into service, as it crashed again 10 years later, federal records show.
In 2011, a 36-year-old man chartering a local sightseeing flight crashed that plane in Colorado, a safety board report shows. The plane again collided with the tops of several trees.
“He said that about 5 miles south of the airport at 1,000 feet above ground level, the airplane encountered a strong downdraft and began to descend,” the report states. “The pilot reported no mechanical anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.”
The pilot was able to regain control and return to the departure airport safely, but the airplane sustained substantial damage to its horizontal stabilizer and elevator. That plane would go on to be acquired by Hawkeye Helicopter sometime between 2011 and 2017.
Same serial number
Smith was flying that plane, as all three incidents involved the same serial and registration number—18280260 and N314FR. Hawkeye Helicopter declined to comment on Friday.
A registration number can be reused, but a serial number cannot, a FAA spokesperson said in an email on Friday.
“The serial number is attached to the plane and is unique to the aircraft. A registration number (N-number) can be assigned to a different aircraft if an owner relinquishes it,” the spokesperson said.
There is no limit to how long a plane can be in service, but there are strict requirements for when an aircraft must be inspected and when and under what conditions parts must be overhauled and replaced, according to the FAA.
“Whether a plane can be flown again after a crash depends on the degree of damage and whether it can be safely repaired,” the spokesperson said.
Authorities learned about a possible downed plane after Hawkeye Helicopter asked law enforcement dispatchers in Casper for assistance in locating a small airplane carrying one person at about 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday, the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office said.
Officials were provided with coordinates for the plane and pilot’s last known location, and a search and rescue operation was immediately launched both in the air and on the ground.
Deputies were dispatched to the sloped, mountain terrain area southeast of Alcova Reservoir.
A Wyoming Army National Guard Blackhawk Helicopter later confirmed the location of a downed aircraft and transported two searchers to traverse into the heavily wooded and remote terrain. Smith was found dead on board.
The cause of the plane crash is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. The results of Smith’s autopsy are pending.