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Controversy After Crashes At ArkanSTOL Practice. Pilot Airlifted To Trauma Center.

The upcoming STOL event was surrounded by drama even before the Wednesday crash. Things just got real though.

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One pilot was seriously hurt in a crash during the lead-up to this weekend’s annual ArkanSTOL short takeoff and landing contest at Byrd’s Adventure Center in Ozark, Arkansas. Over the past three weeks, there have been three crashes, with two of the pilots (all were solo flights) sustaining serious injuries. Local news is focusing on extremely concerned airport neighbors who fear that their home will be struck by an airplane, which is extraordinarily unlikely but plays well with non-aviation audiences.

The most recent and most serious crash of the three happened yesterday. The FAA is reportedly on the scene investigating, and details are still emerging. The pilot, who has not yet been publicly identified, was seriously injured and was taken to a regional trauma center in Littlerock after the plane crashed off airport under unknown circumstances. The pilot’s condition was listed by the FAA as serious, but in FAA parlance, that condition can describe a range of injuries from a single broken bone to life-threatening trauma. We will update this story when we learn more.

The first of the three accidents took place on September 12. The pilot, as with yesterday’s crash, was airlifted to a trauma center. His condition is unknown at this time. Then, on September 24, another plane hit a tree on landing. The pilot was uninjured, according to the FAA’s preliminary report on the crash.

Credit: Franklin County Emergency Management

ArkanSTOL organizer Rusty Coonfield told the news outlet that the event would make changes as necessary, though it’s not known if or how many of the crashes would have been prevented by such changes. The longest of Byrd’s multiple runways is just 1,500 feet long, and tall trees surround the field on all sides. Some of the event’s challenges require tight turns at low level, as demonstrated by John Young in this YouTube video, with landings at multiple strips.

Another brand of controversy erupted online earlier in the week when last year’s ArkanSTOL champ Steve Henry, who also took second prize at the Reno Air Races STOL Drag contest, was told he could not enter this year’s competition, as it had already filled up. Henry had been registered for the event but withdrew in order to fly a different contest, which has since been canceled. When he tried to get back into ArkanSTOL, he heard the bad news. Much of the opinion is that Henry, as returning champ, should be allowed entry despite the circumstances. In many sports, returning champs or high-profile athletes are regularly offered such berths in the field at the organizer’s discretion.

Henry’s absence, if indeed he can’t fly ArkanSTOL, makes last year’s runner up, 17-year-old Jaden Newman, the favorite. Henry beat out Newman by fractions of a second in their two runs.

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