Salina man misidentified as pilot in crash

SALINA — A Salina man who was misidentified as the pilot of an ultralight plane that crashed in Butler County said he wants everyone to know that he's alive and well.

When the experimental aircraft crashed Aug. 6 in a field in Butler County, the Kansas Highway Patrol said 47-year-old Fred Leepers of Salina was the pilot and had been taken to a Wichita hospital in critical condition.

The actual pilot was Miles Frederick Leeper, 43, of Douglass, the Salina Journal reported Thursday. The Journal discovered the error after being contacted by the pilot's older brother.

Leepers said he was unaware of the false report because he was in Hays dealing with a family emergency that weekend. He discovered the problem when he walked into Salina's First Southern Baptist Church on Aug. 7 and several parishioners were overjoyed he still was alive.

"They kept saying, 'I'm glad it's not you,' " he said. "I didn't know what they were talking about. Then my daughter looked at the Internet and said, 'Dad, you were in a plane crash!' "

Leepers said he thinks it's funny now but his first thought was that someone had stolen his identity, and he was relieved that his bank account wasn't compromised.

Leepers said several people called the pharmacy where he works at Salina Regional to ask about his condition. He was off Monday and Tuesday and said he "had to make an appearance at the pharmacy to show I was OK."

He said he tried to call the highway patrol to report the error but didn't pursue it because he was distracted by family business.

The misidentification could have been caused by someone typing a wrong letter into a computer while information about the crash was being relayed, said Trooper Gary Warner, a patrol spokesman in Wichita.

"The bottom line is, things happen," Warner said. "We don't know where Salina came into play. When the information was keyed in, (someone) may have keyed in a wrong letter and it came up Salina.

"I certainly apologize if we caused Mr. Leepers any distress," Warner said.

Trooper Ben Gardner, spokesman for the patrol in Salina, said officers on the scene of an accident often have limited time to gather information from victims. If the person can't communicate, identification often is made through car registration, tags or insurance cards.

"Sometimes you run a name or date of birth and rely on the dispatcher to search on the database to find out more information on a person," he said.

Leepers said he wasn't angry at the patrol and instead wanted everyone to pray for the actual pilot, who was listed in fair condition Thursday.

"I appreciate all the prayers," Leepers said. "But we need to be praying for the other Fred."