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NTSB report: Pilot error a factor in fatal 2019 plane crash near Chamberlain

Wreckage from the accident site after a plane flying from the Chamberlain airport crashed...
Wreckage from the accident site after a plane flying from the Chamberlain airport crashed shortly after takeoff in November of 2019.(National Transportation Safety Board)
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 1:09 PM CDT
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(Dakota News Now) - A federal study of a deadly 2019 plane crash near Chamberlain found that the pilot made several errors leading up to the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board recently released its official docket of investigative materials in the November 2019 crash that left nine people dead and three others seriously hurt. The investigation pointed to a number of factors contributing to the crash, including the plane being overweight with too many passengers, as well as snow and ice accumulation on the plane.

The crash occurred on Nov. 30 when several members of an extended family were attempting to return home to Idaho from their annual Thanksgiving pheasant hunting trip in South Dakota. The victims included brothers Jim and Kirk Hansen, both prominent Idaho businessmen. Two children were among the victims, the youngest being age 7.

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NTSB released video of a plane taking off shortly before it crashed near Chamberlain in November of 2019.
Weather, ice contributed to crash

A winter weather system was moving through the area when the plane attempted to take off. The temperature was hovering around freezing, light snow was falling, and wind speeds at ground level ranged from 10 to 15 miles per hour.

Investigators say the pilot had attempted to to deice the plane while “frozen precipitation was falling,” and that that he did not completely remove snow and ice from the plane’s vertical and horizontal stabilizers. Video shot from the ground while the plane was taxiing before takeoff showed ice buildup was still clearly visible on parts of the plane, according to the report.

The report included an interview with the owner of the hunting lodge where the family had stayed the night before. The owner gave the pilot and a passenger a ride to the airport that morning to prepare the plane. The owner asked the pilot not to “head out” due to the weather conditions, saying they had room for them to stay another night back at the lodge. The pilot said “they needed to get back home.”

The plane’s audio recording included an exchange between the pilot and an airport staff member who was plowing snow from the runway. The pilot asked if the runway is in good condition, and the staff member replied, “I would say I can’t hardly keep up.”

“It don’t look good to me, I don’t know what you guys are thinkin’,” the staff member said.

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Someone works on deicing the plane involved in a fatal crash in November of 2019 near...
Someone works on deicing the plane involved in a fatal crash in November of 2019 near Chamberlain. NTSB investigators say proper deicing procedures were not followed.(National Transportation Safety Board)
Weight, speed issues

The report noted the plane involved in the crash, a Pilatus PC-12, had seating for a total of 10 people, including the pilot. Twelve people were on board the flight when it took off. Investigators say two people likely were sitting on the floor of the aisle.

NTSB investigators say the flight was 107 pounds above “maximum gross weight” at the time of takeoff. In addition, the airplane was loaded several inches aft of its center of gravity limit, “significantly lessening the longitudinal stability of the airplane.”

The pilot also took off too slowly, according to the report. The plane’s “ice pusher” mode was active, which is a setting meant to help when ice may be a factor during takeoff. Investigators say this mode requires the plane to reach a greater speed during takeoff than normal. A simulation found the plane was moving at 88 knots, which is four knots slower than recommended when ice pusher mode is on.

Investigators say the plane was in the air for only about a minute before it crashed. The plane took off around 12:32 p.m. The audio recording captured an automated stall warning beginning less than 30 seconds later. The pilot said “oh no” a few seconds later, and sounds of the crash were heard about ten seconds later.

Simulation map from NTSB investigation into a deadly plane crash in Chamberlain in November of...
Simulation map from NTSB investigation into a deadly plane crash in Chamberlain in November of 2019.(National Transportation Safety Board)

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