According to Federal Aviation Administration documents and audiotapes obtained by The Smoking Gun, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) “scared the crap out of” airport workers at Cameron County Airport in South Texas last October, when he landed his Cessna on a closed runway.
On October 21, 2010, Inhofe landed his plane on a runway that was closed and marked with an X, apparently scattering construction workers and nearly hitting a truck. According to an FAA report, Inhofe noticed the X, but “still elected to land avoiding the men and equipment on the runway.”
Shortly after the incident, the man supervising the construction, Sidney Boyd, spoke on the phone with the FAA, and said the landing “scared the crap out of us.” (Listen to the audio here.) Boyd said he thought the driver of the truck Inhofe almost hit “actually wet his britches.”
“James Inhofe, they tell me he’s a Senator from Oklahoma,” Boyd can be heard saying.
According to Boyd, Inhofe’s plane initially touched down, and then “sky hopped” over six vehicles and personnel working on the runway, before landing for good.
“He was determined to land on that runway come hell or high water, evidently,” Boyd said.
In another FAA recording, airport manager Marshall Reece can be heard saying he has “got over 50 years flying, three tours of Vietnam, and I can assure you I have never seen such a reckless disregard for human life in my life.”
The FAA report says that Inhofe did not check the Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) indicating the runway closure prior to flying. Back in October, the Senator told The Washington Post he “didn’t have a NOTAM.” He also told the Post that an airport official, not identified, “hates me, I don’t know why.”
Another FAA document states that Inhofe admitted he was “showing a new hire employee seated in the right seat how the technology of the cockpit instrumentation worked” just before the incident. The document also states that Inhofe’s secretary called the airport the day before the incident, and was not informed of a runway closure.
In a letter dated January 4, 2011, FAA Aviation Safety Inspector Robert J. O’Keefe indicates that Inhofe agreed to a “program of remedial training” as a substitute for legal action on December 9, 2010, and had since submitted evidence of “satisfactory completion” of the training.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com