Former NASA Romeo crash-lands stalled plane

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, UNITED STATES: The crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery walks out of the Operations and Checkout building 09 December 2007, before boarding the Astrovan for the ride to launch pad 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. (Front L-R) Joan Higginbotham and Commander Mark Polansky, (2nd L-R) Nicholas Patrick and pilot William Oefelein, (3rd L-R) Sunita Williams and Sweden's Christer Fuglesang of the European Space Agency followed by Robert Curbeam.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The former space shuttle pilot who was at the center of a love triangle that featured a bizarre airport attack by his former astronaut girlfriend on his new love interest was the pilot of a small plane that stalled and crashed last month in rural Alaska, federal officials said Friday.

Bill Oefelein piloted the shuttle Discovery in December 2006. Two months later, his former girlfriend, Lisa Nowak, raced the 900 miles from Houston to the Orlando airport to confront Colleen Shipman, wearing an astronaut diaper so that she wouldn't have to stop and donning a wig and trench coat as Shipman looked for her bags, police have said.

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Oefelein and Shipman are now married and living in Anchorage, according to Florida attorney Kepler Funk, who has represented Shipman in the past.

In the Sept. 15 crash, Oefelein managed to skillfully steer the stalled small plane 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 National Transportation Safety Board said at the time it would have taken "nerves of steel" for the risky maneuver.

An engine check was conducted on the crashed Cessna 206 floatplane on Friday and no problem was found, according to the Jim La Belle, the NTSB's Alaska regional chief.

NTSB's 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.

Oefelein didn't immediately return an email seeking comment Friday and there is no telephone listing for him or Shipman in Anchorage.

A preliminary report of the crash is expected to be released next week, La Belle said.