Linh Ta, Des Moines Register
A student pilot said he was attempting to divert a plane to the Perry Municipal Airport in the minutes before it crashed in Guthrie County in November, killing everybody aboard, federal investigators say.
The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report this week about the Nov. 9 crash that killed three adults and a teenager, all of whom were flying to Osceola for a hunting trip.
Authorities had previously said that the plane’s pilot had suffered an apparent heart attack and that the student pilot took over. The new report fills in more details about what happened as the student pilot tried to land safely to get help.
The plane had left Le Mars in northwest Iowa at 4:15 p.m. bound for Osceola. Around 5 p.m., the pilot notified Des Moines air-traffic controllers that he was a student and was trying to get to the Perry airport, according to the report.
Later, other pilots who had just taken off from Des Moines told the air-traffic controllers that they had communicated with the pilot, who said he was going to attempt a landing at the Guthrie County Regional Airport instead.
After speaking with the pilot, air-traffic controllers called the Guthrie County Sheriff’s Office and requested an emergency landing for a single-engine aircraft at the airport east of Guthrie Center. The plane, a 1979 Piper Dakota, never arrived.
The aircraft disappeared from radar about 4 miles southwest of the Guthrie County airport.
Examination of the GPS on the plane indicated that after departing, the plane flew southeast for 45 minutes before reaching the Guthrie Center area.
Around 5 p.m., the plane made a 90-degree left turn toward the Guthrie County airport, followed by a counterclockwise orbit around the airport runway. The plane then flew southwest toward Guthrie Center and, after passing east of town, it started descending about two miles to the south, according to the report.
After flying around the town and climbing, descending and climbing again, the plane turned southwest before crashing.
The sheriff’s office launched an extensive search for the aircraft, using the assistance of more than a dozen police, fire and rescue agencies. More than 13 hours later, the next morning, a resident reported a small-plane crash in a cow pasture southwest of the intersection of 265th Street and Maple Avenue in Guthrie County.
The victims were Edward Anderson, 49, of Le Mars; Patrick Kellen, 36, of Le Mars; Samantha Clark, 15, of Le Mars; and Tyler Douvia, 28, of Merrill. Anderson was the original pilot; Kellen attempted to land the plane, his brother said on Facebook. Kellen had flown the plane alone before “on multiple occasions,” the report said.
The plane crash was the deadliest in Iowa since Feb. 16, 2007, when a Cessna 240A carrying a pilot and three passengers crashed on approach to Council Bluffs Municipal Airport during adverse winter weather, killing all four on board, according to data kept by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Toxicology testing performed by the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s office revealed elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the blood of all occupants.