Authorities blame plane crash on drunken pilot

SANDPOINT, Idaho — A pilot who crashed his twin-engine plane at the airport in Sandpoint was flying under the influence of alcohol, according to authorities in the north Idaho resort town.

Nobody was injured Monday when the plane left the runway and smashed into a chain link fence along the airport’s perimeter, but the airport’s primary navigation system was damaged.

Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon told the Bonner County Daily Bee that pilot Donald Muirhead, 55, was arrested on suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The crash is also being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Authorities say Muirhead and two other unidentified passengers flew from Provo, Utah, to Sandpoint on Monday morning.

SilverWing Flight Services manager Jason Hauck, who was contracted to oversee the accident cleanup, said damage to both the aircraft and airport property is extensive. He said the Aerostar 602P crashed through the airport’s primary navigational equipment, which is used by almost all pilots to land in darkness or bad weather. Replacement could take months, he said.

Hauck believes the cost of the new system will be covered by insurance. More costly, however, could be the loss of revenue to the airport due to reduced flight operations, especially in winter.

“This will definitely hurt the local economy,” Hauck said.

Hauck estimated the aircraft value at about $350,000. He said it was too soon to say if it could be repaired.

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