OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe walked away from a forced landing at a small airport in Oklahoma amid high winds and severe weather, his spokeswoman said Monday.
The 81-year-old Republican, an avid pilot, brought his plane down in Ketchum, a small community in far northeastern Oklahoma, spokeswoman Donelle Harder said.
Inhofe and another pilot were flying in tandem in separate planes during a Sunday evening pleasure flight despite the severe thunderstorm watch that was in effect for much of Oklahoma.
"He experienced high winds at landing," Harder told The Associated Press in an email. "Inhofe walked away and is now at home with his family celebrating" the July Fourth holiday, Harder said.
She declined to provide any more details, and the Federal Aviation Administration wouldn't confirm that Inhofe is the pilot under investigation after veering off the runway at the small airport around 7 p.m. Sunday.
FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the pilot reported steering into some brush to avoid a deer.
Lunsford said the pilot was not injured, but would not confirm who was at the controls. The FAA does not release names of pilots, and will not disclose more details while the investigation is under way, he added.
FAA records indicate the aircraft is a fixed-wing, single-engine Harmon Rocket II manufactured in 2003 and registered to Padre Co. LLC of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Inhofe, who often pilots a small plane to campaign stops across Oklahoma, has logged more than 11,000 flight hours during decades of flying, according to a biography on his website.
In 2011, the senator ran afoul of the FAA when he landed a plane on a closed runway at a rural South Texas airport even though there was a giant yellow X and trucks on the runway. Workers on the ground scrambled to get out of the way.
Inhofe agreed to complete a remedial training program rather than face possible legal action and possible suspension of his pilot's license. He later sponsored a bill to strengthen the position of pilots when contesting FAA enforcement of safety regulations in such cases.
He's had other close calls as well: In 2006, an experimental plane he was flying spun out of control while landing in Tulsa. In 1999, Inhofe made an emergency landing in a Tulsa suburb after the plane he was flying lost a propeller.
Inhofe's son, Perry Inhofe, died in a small plane crash in November 2013. But the senator has continued to fly, despite his advanced age.
Lunsford said there is no maximum age for pilots, noting that some fly well into their 90s.
"All pilots must pass regular physical exams and take a check ride every two years to demonstrate proficiency," he said in an email. "It's totally dependent on physical and mental ability."
Inhofe, a former Tulsa mayor and congressman, was first elected to the Senate in 1994 and is now serving his fourth full six-year term. He chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is the senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A strong supporter of the military and the oil and gas industry, Inhofe is one of Congress' most vocal climate-change deniers, and has opposed environmental regulations, claiming they choke the economy.