Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Piper PA-18-150 Super Cub, N5989Z: Accident occurred December 16, 2014 near Ronan Airport (7S0), Montana


NTSB Identification: WPR15FA062
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, December 16, 2014 in Ronan, MT
Aircraft: PIPER PA 18-150, registration: N5989Z
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On December 16, 2014, about 1615 mountain standard time, a Piper PA-18-150 Super Cub, N5989Z, impacted a hill while maneuvering in Ronan, Montana. The rear-seated passenger was operating the airplane under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The front-seated commercial pilot was fatally injured and the passenger sustained serious injuries; the airplane sustained substantial damage. The local personal flight departed Ronan Airport, Ronan, Montana about 1600. Daytime visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed.

The passenger was a student pilot and had purchased the airplane September 30, 2014. He had recently purchased a new propeller for the airplane and the pilot, who was additionally a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificated mechanic, installed the propeller just prior to the accident flight. 

Numerous witnesses reported observing the airplane maneuvering at a low altitude a few minutes prior to the accident. One witness recalled hearing the airplane's engine accelerate and rev higher just prior to the impact. Another witness stated that he observed the airplane perform several erratic maneuvers where it was low to the ground and would rapidly climb and descend similar to an agricultural operation (crop dusting). 

The airplane wreckage was located on a steep hillside slope about 100 feet below the peak. The accident site was about 5 nautical miles (nm) from Ronan Airport on a bearing of about 295 degrees. The wreckage came to rest on a hillside in the Valley View Hills, which is the most easterly elevated terrain from the valley where both the towns of Pablo and Ronan are located. The surrounding area was sparsely populated. There were ground scar signatures in the terrain, consistent with the propeller and left wing tip colliding with terrain at the initial impact. These first identified impact points were about 75 feet from the main wreckage on a bearing of 015 degrees and located on a 45-degree slope. The airplane's wreckage was found inverted with the nose headed upslope.

The airplane was recovered for further examination.

WASILLA -- A Wasilla pilot with a young family and a growing air taxi business died Tuesday afternoon in a plane crash in northwest Montana near Flathead Lake. 

Brett Thoft, 33, was flying a two-seater tandem Piper Super Cub with friend Tim Schauss when the crash occurred, according to Lake County authorities in Montana. Thoft was pronounced dead at the site. Schauss, who owns a grocery store in Pablo, was listed in critical condition at Kalispell Regional Medical Center on Wednesday.

Residents in the area dotted with farms and ranches said they saw the small plane crash into a hillside around 4:30 p.m., said Lake County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Karen Sargeant. Locals on four-wheelers helped rescuers find the crash site, which was in rugged terrain. Some responders knew at least one of the men.

Thoft and Lake County resident Schauss were on a “casual flightseeing trip” when the plane crashed, Sargeant said. Portland, Ore.-based investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were en route to the crash site on Wednesday afternoon.

Schauss made one of the 911 calls about the crash and never lost consciousness, according to a friend of his in Montana.  

Thoft attended high school and college in Montana and still has family there, a friend said. 

Thoft had a wife and two young daughters, whom he featured prominently on his company website. 

Thoft owned and operated Full Curl Aviation LLC, a Wasilla-based air taxi service. He spent summers in the Brooks Range ferrying hunters, rafters, and adventurers in and out of a temporary camp at Happy Valley, according to his company website.

Before he started the business, he worked for Bob Summers at Deltana Outfitters as a Happy Valley-based guide and pilot.

Summers said he was shocked when he heard Wednesday morning that Thoth had crashed.

“He was an exceptional pilot. I spent a lot of time in the plane with him,” Summers said. “He was exceptional in every sense of the word. He was a legend in the making.”

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Brett Thoft

PABLO – An outfitter and guide whose website says he had logged “thousands of hours flying all over remote Alaska” was the victim of a late Tuesday afternoon plane crash west of here. 

Lake County authorities on Wednesday identified the pilot of the plane, who was killed, as 33-year-old Brett Thoft.

Thoft operated Full Curl Aviation of Wasilla, Alaska. He grew up in Montana, according to the website.

His passenger, Tim Schauss of Pablo, was critically injured and flown by helicopter to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where Lake County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Karen Sargeant said he remains in critical condition.

Authorities also said the plane, a two-seater tandem Piper aircraft, took off from the Ronan Airport, not the Polson Airport as previously reported.

Sargeant described it as a “sightseeing flight.”

Full Curl Aviation is an air taxi service that caters to “unguided hunters, rafters and adventure groups,” its website says.

“We operate a Piper Supercub and an M7 Maule on Bushwheels in the summer months and skis in the winter,” it goes on. “We are a small family owned and operated company ... Nicole handles the business on the ground ... while Brett handles the flying.”

Witnesses called 9-1-1 at approximately 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to report a small plane with two people on board had crashed into a hillside.

An investigator for the National Transportation and Safety Board was due at the crash site Wednesday.

Thoft’s body was taken to the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula.

According to fullcurlaviation.com, Thoft earned his airframe and powerplant mechanic license, a private pilot’s license and an associate’s degree in aviation in his native Montana.

“After college Brett moved to Alaska and worked as a hunting and fishing guide, eventually earning his registered guide/outfitter license,” it says. “With flying experience dating back to his teens, Brett earned a commercial single engine land and sea pilot license and started flying full time.”

He was also an FAA-authorized aircraft inspector, it says.


Brett Thoft

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