Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cessna 172: Pilot dies when plane crashes at Sturgis Municipal Airport (49B), South Dakota

The pilot of a single-engine Cessna 172 died Friday morning when his plane crashed near the runway of Sturgis Municipal Airport.

The Meade County Sheriff's Office said it could be later today before the identity of the pilot is released.

The pilot was practicing touch-and-go landings when the crash occurred about 9 a.m., according to FAA spokesman Roland Herwig of Oklahoma City.

Herwig said the pilot was on a solo flight in the four-passenger plane. The Cessna was a fixed high-wing aircraft built in 1973, according its FAA registration. The plane has a maximum speed of 108 mph, according to manufacturer's specifications.

The Cessna is one of three airplanes registered to Bear Butte Flying Club out of Sturgis. The planes are available for rent by club members, according to Delbert Kolb, who maintains a plane at the Sturgis airport.

"It's a good plane for a flying club," said Kolb, who has flown for more than 50 years. "It's easy to fly and maintain."

At mid-morning, the plane lay on it is top near the airport's main runway, and a strong northerly wind held the airport's windsock aloft. The runway stretches from the northwest to the southeast more than 5,000 feet.

The FFA will take charge of the accident investigation, unless it is turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board, Herwig said. The investigation could take several weeks or months, he said.

According to NTSB records, only 21 accidents involving Cessna 172s have been reported in South Dakota since 1982. Only one of those accidents, near Aberdeen in 1990, ended in a fatality after the pilot failed to maintain airspeed while buzzing a sunflower field to drive away birds.

Those same records indicate that Friday's fatal crash is the first in decades at the Sturgis airport. In August, a commercial spray plane piloted by 64-year-old Loren L. Ring of Rapid City took off from the Sturgis airport on a routine aerial application job. Ring died when his plane crashed into a hill northeast of Whitewood.

Between May 2010 and May 2011, an average of 40 aircraft operations per day were conducted at the Sturgis airport, according to FAA statistics. Sixty-eight percent of those operations involved local aircraft. Those same records indicated that 24 single-engine aircraft are based at the airport, along with two multi-engine aircraft.

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