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The mayor said he was glad the final rudder malfunction happened after landing and not during.

Pell City Mayor Bill Hereford said he is thankful the rudder pedal on his airplane malfunctioned when he was taxiing off the runway and not while he was landing.

He escaped injury Tuesday morning when the airplane he was flying veered off a runway at the Brewton Municipal Airport and crashed into a ditch.

He was flying to Brewton to get a first-hand look at the city’s public television network when the accident occurred.

Freddie McCall Jr., the fixed base operations manager at the airport, said Hereford contacted the airport via radio shortly before 8 a.m. seeking a runway to land and was told to use Runway 30.

“It looked like a normal approach, but said he was going around because he was having a little bit of rudder problems,” McCall said. “I told him at that point to use any runway he wanted.”

Hereford landed his plane on runway 30 in what McCall described as a normal landing. He taxied to the end of the runway and stopped.

McCall said he called Hereford and told him he could have the plane towed to the hanger area, but Hereford said he was OK and could taxi back to the hangers.

However, several hundred yards from the hanger area, the plane veered to the left and crashed into a ditch. McCall estimated the 2003 Piper Archer was traveling about 15 to 20 mph when it went into the ditch.

Hereford described using the pedal as “like driving a car, except you’re using your feet.”

Hereford said somehow the cotter key had fallen out—he presumes the bolt had been gradually working it’s way to when it fell out, and caused the mishap.

“I hate it worse than anything,” he said, noting the plane was insured.

He said he has over 900 hours of flying time and estimated he had probably 600 hours in the Archer. “I feel snake bit,” he lamented and added of flying, “I love it better than anything. When you have a mechanical failure, that’s one thing. When you have a pilot error, that’s another. The serious part of the whole thing is that had the rubber petal totally failed when I was landing, I might not have been talking to you.”

He said he was traveling somewhere between 60 to 70 knots when he landed. “In my mind I’m just thankful this didn’t happen on landing and that it happened on taxiing at low speed…I hate it, but I’m so thankful that when it  did and where it did.  

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