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Caledonia plane crash puzzles experienced local pilots

By Pauleen Le, ple@wkbt.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 01:33:59 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 03 2013 03:08:43 PM CST
Caledonia plane crash

WKBT, News8000.com

CALEDONIA, MN. (WKBT) -

Investigators have released the names of the people killed in a small airplane crash Thursday afternoon.

The Houston County Sheriff’s Department said four people were flying from Troy Michigan, to the Houston County airport in Caledonia, Minnesota when their plane crashed about a mile south of the airport.

Joel Garrett, 79, Dale Garrett, 49, and John Bergeron, 50, were killed in the crash. All were from Michigan.

The lone survivor, Joseph Stevens, 61, was transported to a local hospital by Med-Link with severe injuries.

A farmer reported the crash after seeing the wreckage of the twin engine plane in a field.

The crash is being investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Officials said they do not know what caused the crash and will spend the next two days investigating the scene.

“When we do the investigation, we'll start off with the man, the pilot, his training his experience and come up with the information with regards to that the machine, (which) obviously is the airplane, and it's quite often the most visible part of an examination," said Craig Hatch, N.T.S.B. air safety investigator. "The other part is the environment, not necessarily the weather, air traffic control, radar environment and then the surrounding environment.”

The Houston County Airport is mainly used as a refueling stop for private planes traveling all across the country.

Crashing so close to the airport has some pilots puzzled as to what could have gone wrong.

Yellow tape now surrounds the small two-engine plane that still lies in pieces - but local pilots said the pieces just don't seem to make sense.

“It does puzzle us and that's what we're wondering,” said Arne Beneke, a local pilot. “What did happen over there?”

Arne Beneke has used the runway here for 13 years. From his perspective, it should have been an easy one to navigate on a clear day.

“It was flat, there's no obstructions, there was no wind so to speak, no bad weather and yet it was just a short distance away from the runway that it crash landed right there,” said Beneke.

“To look out on the field out there, I'm scratching my head,” said Eric Benson, another local pilot. “I don't quite understand.”

Benson has had two close-calls near this airport in his more than two decades of flying experience.

He said the airport doesn't allow flying into the runway using what's called the GPS approach -- using specific instruments to help planes land safely, especially in bad weather.

He said the alternative is much more dangerous -- making a series of turns and maneuvers before finally landing.

"You get into that scenario where the plane is banking so hard, you trying not to slow down but you end up slowing down some, the plane loses wind flowing under the wings, and I've stalled and entered, and recovered and flown to other airports," said Benson.

Just exactly what happened shortly before this plane crashed is still unknown, but both pilots hope this tragedy can raise awareness among other flyers taking to the sky.

“As a pilot, everything we live and breathe is safety, safety, safety, safety, and if we could make this airport safer for me that would be great, but more so, safer for the community,” said Benson.

N.T.S.B. officials are hoping to talk to the lone survivor of the crash for more information.

There is still no updated report on his condition.

The Houston County Sheriff's department is asking if anyone knows anything about the crash or saw it happen to call 507-725-3379.

The N.T.S.B. said it will be about five days before it has an official report.

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