A private pilot who flew a single-engine plane over the track at Winter Fest could have his certificate to fly suspended.
According to records obtained by The Chetek Alert through the Freedom of Information Act, the pilot, Daniel G. Hammons, of Vadnais Heights, Minn., was flying a Piper Cherokee on Feb. 22, when he intentionally flew low over the ice track and close to a large crowd gathered on Lake Chetek for Winter Fest.
In May, the FAA’s legal enforcement division—which handles actions against pilots who violate aviation regulations—recommended Hammon’s private pilot certificate (his license to fly planes privately) be suspended.
The FAA’s investigation began on Feb. 24 after deputies from the Barron County Sheriff’s Department reported the low-flying plane to the administration. Deputies submitted reports, along with numerous photos and a video captured by spectators at Winter Fest.
“The aircraft descends and banks over the crowd at the beginning of [the snowmobile] radar run and flies down the radar run, which is lined by many spectators at less than the required minimum distance,” documents state. The report says the plane flew as low as 30 feet above the track and its energy vector (or path it was flying toward) pointed over the crowd.
Other than during takeoffs, landings or emergencies, airplanes must maintain at least 1,000 feet above and 2,000 feet laterally away from large gatherings and “congested” areas, according to federal regulation 91.119. The law stipulates aircraft stay at least 500 feet away from people and vehicles in nonpopulated areas. Helicopters and powered parachutes (like what are often seen flying around Chetek) are exempt from these rules.
In an email to FAA inspectors, Hammons admitted to flying the low pass.
“I am guilty of performing a flyby. I was aware of the people to the south of my direction and maybe some trailers on the west end of the drag strip that was plowed from west to east,” he wrote in an email on March 6 to the FAA. But Hammons said he was certain there were no vehicles or people directly beneath his flight path or else he would not have taken that path.
FAA inspectors also determined that Hammon’s most recent biennial flight review—a proficiency check pilots must take at least every two years to legally be in command of an aircraft—was out of date. His last BFR was conducted in August 2009.
Records said “compliance action” was considered, wherein the FAA has a pilot take steps to remedy or retrain to avoid future problems, rather than automatically suspend or revoke a license. However, since the flyby was intentional, deemed reckless and created an unacceptable level of risk, the FAA decided enforcement action was recommended.
While suspension was recommended by the FAA, it did not specify when or how long the suspension would be and if any remedial actions—like training—should be taken by Hammons.
It was not known if or when his certificate would be suspended. A records request to the FAA on Friday, July 24, said Hammon’s certificate revealed no suspension record.