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Forum News Service, Published November 07 2013

Skydiving pilot who successfully landed plane has multiple driving violations

SUPERIOR, Wis. - Blake Wedan, the 26-year-old pilot who successfully landed his damaged plane following a midair collision over Superior, Wis., on Saturday, has a spotless commercial pilot license, according to Federal Aviation Administration records and an agency official.

His driving record reveals multiple violations in Minnesota, however, including a charge May 28 when he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after a breath test indicated his blood-alcohol level was 0.09 percent. A second breath test put that number at 0.08 percent — the legal threshold for driving under the influence in Minnesota.

Records reviewed by the Duluth News Tribune show the initial DUI charge against Wedan was subsequently reduced. He was convicted of careless driving, resulting in the temporary revocation of his driver’s license.

The Duluth resident also has been repeatedly cited for speeding, receiving eight tickets since 2006.

An FAA spokesperson said driving incidents are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Wedan’s driving record has not affected his pilot’s license or flight status.

Wedan did not respond to a phone message requesting comment Thursday. Mark Androsky, one of the operators of Skydive Superior who hired Wedan to fly the Cessna 185 involved in Saturday’s accident, said he was unaware that Wedan’s driver’s license had been revoked but was confident of his abilities as a pilot.

“It was just an unfortunate accident,” Androsky said. “We’re going to wait for the FAA report. We’ve got nothing to hide.”

As for the multiple speeding tickets Wedan has incurred, Androsky said: “He’s a pilot. Lots of pilots like to go fast.”

The two aircraft — with four skydivers and a pilot in the lead Cessna 182, and five skydivers in the trailing Cessna 185 piloted by Wedan — collided above Superior about 6 p.m. Saturday. Wedan’s plane apparently struck the lead aircraft, shearing off the Cessna 182’s wings in a fiery collision, Androsky said.

“The chase plane must have got caught in the burble,” Androsky said Sunday, describing the air turbulence behind a moving airplane.

Trisha Roy, one of five skydivers in Wedan’s plane at the time of the accident, praised his composure in the wake of the collision.

“Blake has been a rock star through all this. He did his job,” she said. “I would not hesitate to get back in a plane with him.”

Likewise, Barry Sinex, a skydiving instructor who was in the plane that was destroyed in the accident, also praised Wedan, who landed the aircraft with a bent propeller.

“Blake is just a great guy. That’s not to make any excuse for an unfortunate mistake, but to make an issue out of that ticket isn’t right,” he said of the careless driving conviction. “I just feel good that everyone lived, and I don’t want anyone going after Blake.”

Andy Niemyer, a veteran local pilot with no connection to the event or Skydive Superior, said that a DUI probably would affect a pilot’s medical license but that speeding would be less of a concern by the FAA.

“Pilots and lead feet — that’s kind of been happening in perpetuity,” he said. “Remember, Eddie Rickenbacker was a race car driver.”

A “Dateline NBC” special will be broadcast tonight, featuring the entire skydiving team, Wedan and Matt Fandler, pilot of the destroyed plane who parachuted to safety.

Fandler has no incidents on either his flying or driving record.