Federal investigators this week have been at the scene near Chamberlain, South Dakota, where a plane crashed Saturday, Nov. 30, killing nine and injuring three people from an Idaho family.
In a preliminary update issued by the National Transportation Safety Board on Monday, Dec. 2, investigators said that weather conditions included snow and icing. In fact, the NTSB team itself was delayed reaching the crash site because of inclement weather.
The 12 members of the extended family had flown into Chamberlain Friday, Nov. 29, to hunt pheasants at the Thunderstik Lodge, where they had been guests for years. They were flying in a Pilatus PC-12 plane, a Swiss-made single-engine turbo prop.
One of the family members was the pilot.
They arrived at about 9:30 a.m., Friday, Nov. 29, for their annual pheasant hunt. The pilot bought 150 gallons of jet fuel from an automated pump at the Chamberlain Municipal Airport, which is just south of Interstate 90 on the southwest corner of the city of 2,400 that extends on both sides of I-90 on the east bank of the Missouri River.
The family left the plane parked at the airport Friday on the airport ramp, until returning about noon on Saturday, according to the NTSB report.
“The pilot filed an instrument flight rules plan with the Federal Aviation Administration and received clearance to fly direct from Chamberlain, a non-towered airport, to Idaho Falls, Idaho, with a planned departure time of 12:20 p.m., (Nov. 30),” according to the NTSB. “The plane departed Chamberlain at 12:26 p.m. CST. When the pilot did not activate the flight plan after departure, the FAA issued an alert for a missing airplane.”
The weather at the time was a north-northeast wind of seven miles per hour, a half-mile of visibility with “moderate snow and icing, low-level windshear, and clear air turbulence conditions with overcast skies. The base of the cloud layer was recorded at 500 feet above the ground.”
The plane, made by a Swiss company, is described as having a maximum capacity for 10 passengers, including the pilot. It is considered one of the most reliable aircraft and especially capable of landing on a variety of non-conventional surfaces. It’s a popular aircraft worldwide and used a lot as air ambulances around the world, including in Pierre, where Avera Health hangared a new one a year ago to serve central South Dakota.
The plane left the Chamberlain airport and crashed in a corn field a mile or so north of the airport, the NTSB reported in the update this week.
However, authorities in Chamberlain, including the emergency manager, said the Pilatus crashed about a mile southwest of the airport in a corn field.
The aircraft is not required to have a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder.
“Investigators will be looking for any avionics or engine monitoring equipment with non-volatile memory that could yield information relevant to the investigation,” according to the NTSB update this week.
The Pilatus was equipped with an “automated dependent surveillance broadcast system which records parameters that will help investigators determine the performance of the airplane by evaluating the flight track, altitude and speed from takeoff to the end of the flight,” the NTSB update said.
Three NTSB investigators arrived at the site Monday afternoon, delayed by poor weather.
This week they have been working on “documenting the airplane and wreckage pattern, examining its systems, flight controls, and engine. In addition, any witnesses to the crash will be interviewed. Interviews with the surviving passengers will also be requested,” the NTSB update said.
The three survivors were reported to be in stable condition in a Sioux Falls hospital on Monday.
The investigators are expected to finish their work by this weekend and issue a preliminary report within about two weeks.
“The entire investigation, which will result in a determination of probable cause and will list any contributing factors, is expected to be completed in 12-24 months,” according to the NTSB update posted this week.