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Pampernaut love-rat space shuttle pilot prangs plane

Passengers unhurt in Alaskan Cessna crash

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Former space shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein, famous for being the man at the centre of the romantic rivalry between troubled astronaut Lisa Nowak and air force officer Colleen Shipman - which led to the astonishing nappies, mace and car-park fracas sensation of 2007 - has suffered a mishap at the controls of a small floatplane in Alaska, according to reports.

The AP, quoting federal aviation officials, reports that Oefelein was piloting a six-seat Cessna 206 floatplane on 15 September when it came down in some alder bushes near Judd Lake, some 50 miles from Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. None of the three people aboard the Regal Air craft were hurt, but the plane was damaged and an official investigation is underway.

Oefelein has an impressive record as a pilot, as a graduate of the US Navy's famous "Top Gun" fighter school and a qualified test pilot before being selected to fly the space shuttle. He went into space as pilot of the shuttle Discovery in 2006.

However the dashing stick-jockey had a complicated personal life, reportedly enjoying the affections of fellow astronaut Lisa Nowak - while she was still married to a brother navy flyer - and then US air force captain Colleen Shipman simultaneously, perhaps concurrently with those of his then wife.

Matters came to a head in 2007 when mother-of-three Nowak made a non-stop transcontinental road odyssey to intercept Shipman in a Florida airport car park. There she squirted pepper spray at the younger woman through the window of her car before Shipman made good her escape and police intervened.

The cops later stated that Nowak had made her trip wearing space nappies in order to avoid the need for restroom breaks, had mounted her attack disguised in a wig, sunglasses and a trench coat, and had been packing a knife and a hammer in addition to her pepper spray.

Nowak's representatives vigorously denied that she had worn nappies, at one point contacting the Register to point out that none had been seized as evidence in the case. The astronaut's lawyer has stated that nappies seen by police in the astronaut's car had actually been normal child-size ones, not astronaut ones, and that they had been worn by Nowak's children as the family fled Hurricane Rita over a year before the car park incident. At that point her youngest would have been four years old, according to a speech Nowak gave to a Catholic girls' school in 2006.

The ensuing legal proceedings dragged on for some time, with Nowak eventually agreeing to a plea bargain which saw her sentenced to two days' jail - already previously served - a year of supervised probation, community service and anger management classes. She and Oefelein were both drummed out of the astronaut corps, and Oefelein subsequently left the US Navy to settle in Alaska with Shipman, now his wife.

The circumstances of last month's Cessna crash are as yet unclear, though the AP reports that federal officials were impressed at Oefelein's skill in setting the plane down with passengers unhurt. However it is also reported that the aircraft had stalled prior to the crash, and that no problem with its engine have been found by investigators. Nonetheless no blame is being attached to Oefelein's handling of the plane as yet.

"We're not assuming any operational errors," Jim La Belle of the National Transportation Safety Board told the AP. ®

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