Image: Oefelein
NASA file
Former astronaut Bill Oefelein, shown here in a 2006 photo taken during his space shuttle mission, was involved in a recent plane crash in Alaska, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/7/2011 5:34:32 PM ET 2011-10-07T21:34:32

Federal officials confirmed Friday that former space shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein, one of the figures in an infamous astronaut love triangle, was the pilot of a small plane that stalled and crashed last month in rural Alaska.

Oefelein was the pilot of the shuttle Discovery in December 2006. His former girlfriend, astronaut Lisa Nowak, stirred up a scandal in February 2007 when she confronted a romantic rival, then-Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, at the Orlando International Airport in Florida.

  1. Space news from NBCNews.com
    1. KARE
      Teen's space mission fueled by social media

      Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.

    2. Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
    3. Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
    4. Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online

The incident became even more notorious when police claimed that Novak made a marathon 950-mile drive from Texas to Florida while wearing diapers to cut down on bathroom stops. During a court hearing, Nowak's lawyer said that the story was "an absolute fabrication" and that the toddler-size diapers found in her car were left over from a hurricane evacuation a couple of years earlier.

After two years of legal wrangling, Nowak agreed to a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to charges of felony burglary and misdemeanor battery. This year, the U.S. Navy gave Nowak a demotion and an "other than honorable" discharge .

Oefelein, meanwhile, left NASA and married Shipman. The couple moved to Alaska and set up a freelance writing and public-speaking business.

No injuries, but heavy damage
In the Sept. 15 crash, Oefelein managed to steer the stalled small floatplane into some alder bushes and land without any injuries near Judd Lake, about 50 miles northwest of Anchorage. None of the three on board was injured, but the six-seat Regal Air plane was heavily damaged when it went down in a swampy area of alder bushes about 200 feet from the lake.

The plane had just taken off when it lost power, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. At the time, the NTSB said it would have taken "nerves of steel" to execute the risky maneuver.

An engine check was conducted on the crashed Cessna 206 floatplane on Friday, and no technical problem was found, according to the Jim La Belle, the NTSB's Alaska regional chief. The investigation continues and will look at any potential issues involving Oefelein or mechanical problems, La Belle said. The environment does not appear to be a factor.

"We're not assuming any operational errors," he said. A preliminary report of the crash is expected to be released next week, La Belle said.

'Phenomenal job'
Mike Laughlin, owner of Anchorage-based Regal Air, declined to confirm that Oefelein was the pilot of the floatplane. The pilot involved in the crash was picking up two campers at Judd Lake and heading to Anchorage when the plane went down, he said.

"The pilot did a phenomenal job in bringing everyone down and keeping everyone safe," Laughlin told The Associated Press. "Everybody walked away."

It's the first crash for the air taxi and flightseeing company, which has been in business since 1982, Laughlin said. The company's busy flying period is over, and the pilot was a seasonal employee for Regal Air, but he is "absolutely" expected to return, Laughlin said.

AP said Oefelein did not immediately return an email seeking comment on Friday.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and msnbc.com.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

loading photos...
  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments