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Westerly aviation company has history of emergency landings involving planes towing banners

Target 12

WESTERLY, RI (WPRI) — The small plane that made an emergency landing in a South Kingstown front yard on Saturday was flying for a Westerly aviation company tied to four Rhode Island accidents since 2009, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) website lists 14 Rhode Island accident reports from the past decade, with four of them involving Simmons Aviation Services.

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Jeremiah Colohan, who ditched a Cessna off Bonnett Shores while flying an advertising banner for Simmons on Fourth of July, 2016, lacked the required pilot license medical certification according to FAA records reviewed by Target 12 in 2016.

Willord Burke, the pilot who landed Saturday on a Shannon Road lawn, just short of a hydrangea bush, received his license in January.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Jim Peters did not comment on how many flights Burke piloted during that 5 month period.

“We’re still gathering info about what happened,” Peters said when asked about Burke’s experience.

A phone number for Burke, who is a Springfield, Massachusetts resident, was unavailable. There has been no response to an email from Target 12.

Mark Simmons, the owner of Simmons Avieation, was the pilot of Piper A-25 that was towing a banner with the message — Michelle, will you marry me on July 23, 2012, when engine problems forced an emergency landing in the water off Westerly.

Simmons “glided [to] the ocean” according to an NTSB accident report.

Another NTSB report names Simmons Aviation as the owner of a Piper Pawnee that made an emergency landing on a Westerly lawn on Fourth of July in 2009. Again, the craft was towing a banner.

Simmons was also at the controls of a 1981 Skyhawk in June 2010, that landed on a fairway of a Haworth, New Jersey country club after the aircraft lost power.

According to an FAA incident report, Simmons controlled the plane to avoid a golfer before the emergency landing.

No one was injured in any of the incidents.

Simmons has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at and follow him on Twitter@wbuteau

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