Originally posted August 1, 2017
No pilot wants to put their certificate in jeopardy. As a result, if there is a minor accident or incident, the first, panicked reaction might be to lie about what happened. As one Wayland, New York man is now finding out, this is the worst thing you can do.
Brian Woodhams had a student pilot’s license in October 2015. As a result, he was only permitted to fly alone or with a flight instructor. On October 31, 2015, Mr. Woodhams had difficulty landing his Piper Cherokee, and wound up running off the runway and putting the aircraft in a ditch. After the accident, Mr. Woodhams told FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors that he was the only person in the aircraft. He also told the inspector that his 15 year old son was at the airport at the time of the incident and, upon seeing the crash, came out to the wreckage, where he slipped and fell as he climbed up the flap, resulting in a bloody nose.
The inspectors continued their investigation, and came across a witness who claimed to have seen Mr. Woohdams’ son in the aircraft. Mr. Woodhams denied the allegation, reaffirmed that he was the only person on board, and stated that his son only arrived at the crash scene later. Mr. Woodhams also submitted a Pilot Accident Report to the NTSB, claiming that he was the sole occupant of the aircraft.
Two months later, Mr. Woodhams got a visit from a Special Agent of the DOT Inspector General. During the interview Mr. Woodhams was asked to explain additional evidence that had surfaced showing his son was on the plane. Mr. Woodhams persisted in his denials.
Needless to say, Mr. Woodhams’ lies continued to unravel until he was forced to admit the truth. He now faces much more than just the loss of his pilot’s license. Pursuant to 18 U.S. Code § 1001, any person who “falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact” or who “makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” involving “any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States” commits a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Note that there is no requirement that the false statement be made under oath.
While this is not a crime that is routinely pursued every time someone lies in the course of an investigation, it is a powerful tool that the government can use to punish in appropriate circumstances. In the case of Mr. Woodhams, he has now been forced to plead guilty to a violation of this statute, and will be sentenced on November 3.
So remember, when it comes to accident reports, honesty really is the best policy.