Friday, May 10, 2019

Mooney M20J 201, owned by Club Cherokee Inc and operated by a private individual under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a business flight, N111JP: Fatal accident occurred May 08, 2019 near Moose Lake Carlton County (KMZH), Minnesota

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Minneapolis, Minnesota

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Moose Lake, MN
Accident Number: CEN19FA139
Date & Time: 05/08/2019, 1630 CDT
Registration: N111JP
Aircraft: Mooney M20J
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Business 

On May 8, 2019, about 1630 central daylight time, a Mooney M20J airplane, N111JP, crashed into Moose Horn River northwest of the Moose Lake Carlton County Airport (KMZH), Moose Lake, Minnesota. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The airplane was owned by Club Cherokee, Inc., and operated by a private individual under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight plan had been filed for the flight. The business flight was originating at the time of the accident and was en route to Crystal Airport (KMIC), Minneapolis, Minnesota.

FAA records indicate that the pilot obtained a weather briefing from flight service station at 1548. According to colleagues of the pilot, he departed the hospital about 1600, and drove to the airport about 7 minutes away. The pilot was issued an instrument clearance and a clearance void time of 1635. When the pilot did not check in with air traffic control, a search for the airplane and the pilot was initiated. Local law enforcement and fire/rescue personnel located the wreckage of the airplane about 1/4 mile to the northwest of the airport, in the river, the next morning.

The airplane came to rest near the west bank of the river in about 2 to 4 ft of water. The engine and propeller were embedded in the mud and silt on the bank of the river and the tail was extended into the air.

The closes official weather observation station was KMXH located just east of the accident site. The routine aviation weather observation for KMZH issued at 1615 reported wind 040° at 11 knots, gusting to 16 knots, visibility 2.5 miles with light snow, sky condition overcast clouds at 800 ft, temperature 1° Celsius (C), dewpoint temperature 0° C, altimeter 30.03 inches of Mercury. The observation issued at 1635 reported wind 030° at 11 knots, gusting to 18 knots, visibility 1.25 miles with light snow, sky condition overcast clouds at 600 ft, temperature 0° C, dewpoint temperature 0° C, altimeter 30.01 inches of Mercury. The observation issued at 1655 wind 040° at 10 knots, gusting to 15 knots, visibility 1 mile with light snow, sky condition over cast clouds at 600 ft, temperature 0° C, dewpoint temperature 0° C, altimeter 30.00 inches of Mercury.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Mooney
Registration: N111JP
Model/Series: M20J No Series
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Instrument Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KMZH, 1076 ft msl
Observation Time: 1635 CDT
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 0°C / 0°C
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 11 knots / 18 knots, 30°
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 600 ft agl
Visibility:  1.25 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.01 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Departure Point: Moose Lake, MN (KMZH)
Destination: Minneapolis, MN (KMIC)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 46.423333, -92.805556

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email 

Dr. Thomas J. Stillwell

Thomas Stillwell was an active pilot, Navy vet and doctor who flew around the region to see and treat patients.

Dr. Thomas J. Stillwell 

Dr. Thomas J. Stillwell 

The pilot of a small plane that crashed shortly after takeoff in Moose Lake on Wednesday was a Navy veteran, a former combat surgeon and a urologist who incorporated his lifelong love of flying into his medical work.

Thomas Stillwell of Plymouth, 65, was killed when the Mooney M20J four-seat aircraft he was flying crashed into the Moose Horn River as he was heading back to the Twin Cities. He was a physician at Minnesota Urology at the time of his death.

"The part of his practice he loved the most was traveling to clinics in outstate Minnesota and practicing urology in rural communities, and bringing his healing and his talents to folks who might otherwise not have access to such specialized care," said his daughter Kate Stillwell, who lives in California. He is also survived by his wife, Virginia, three other adult children and six grandchildren.

Stillwell is originally from Kohler, Wis., but served for years in the Navy, including service on the Iraq-Kuwait border during the first Gulf War, where he was a surgeon in a field hospital.

After leaving the service, he moved to Minnesota with his family in 1991 to work in a private practice, and start flight training.

Stillwell had been working in Moose Lake and filed a flight plan for his return trip to Crystal on Wednesday. The plane he flew belonged to Club Cherokee, a flying club at the airport. Club officials described him as a "long-standing and highly respected member."

When Stillwell failed to return home, the Federal Aviation Administration alerted local authorities, and searchers with the Carlton County Sheriff's Office located the plane in the river near the Moose Lake airport Thursday morning.

The FAA and the NTSB are investigating the crash and haven't offered any initial indication of what happened. A winter storm was moving through the region at the time.

Stillwell's daughter, Kate, said he was a seasoned and meticulous pilot, and had logged more than 2,000 hours of flight time. She said he made a practice of flying to clinics in Moose Lake, Mora, Onamia and Grantsburg, Wis., to see patients and perform surgery. She said he was flying as much as 12 days a month to care for his patients, many of them fellow veterans, which she said he particularly appreciated.

He also had a tradition of arranging get-togethers for veterans, particularly from World War II, from around the state to share their experiences.

"He would organize pilots to pick up veterans and fly them to a destination to have a reunion, to get to know each other and talk about the experiences they had and the services they provided. And to talk about airplanes," she said.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Original article can be found here ➤

MOOSE LAKE, Minnesota  — Search teams have located a missing single engine plane that took off from Moose Lake Wednesday night and failed to arrive at its destination in Crystal.

The plane was found Thursday morning in a river approximately half a mile west of Carlton County airport. The Carlton County Sheriff’s Office says a body pulled from the crashed aircraft is confirmed to be Dr. Thomas Stillwell, 65, of Plymouth. The body was found at 7 a.m. in the Moosehorn River.

Authorities say Stillwell has flown in and out of the airport before, and it is believed he was doing business at Mercy Hospital in Moose Lake before the crash occurred Wednesday afternoon. An internet search shows a Dr. Thomas Stillwell as a member of Minnesota Urology, who is associated both with North Memorial and Fairview Health Systems. 

Dispatchers in Carlton and Pine Counties were contacted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) around 8 p.m. informing them of a plane that was overdue. The flight plan said the pilot was set to leave the Moose Lake-Carlton County Airport at 4:30 with a scheduled landing in Crystal at 5:15 p.m.

Deputies in both Carlton and Pine Counties checked the airports in Cloquet, Moose Lake and Hinkley and were unable to locate the missing plane or its pilot. They also learned the aircraft was never picked up on radar at either the Duluth or Minneapolis Airport towers. 

Poor weather conditions prohibited an air search, so crews began a land search in the area around the Moose Lake Airport. At this point, no reports have been made from citizens regarding a downed aircraft.

The plane is a Mooney M20J 201.

A statement from Minnesota Urology:

The physicians and employees of Minnesota Urology were  devastated to learn early this morning that our colleague and  friend,  Dr.  Thomas  J.  Stillwell,  was  killed  late  yesterday  afternoon when piloting his plane from Moose Lake, MN back  to the Twin Cities.  Dr. Stillwell had just completed a regularly  scheduled day of patient care at the Mercy Hospital clinic,  where  he  provided  urologic  services  to  the  Moose  Lake  community two times per month. 

Dr. Stillwell’s practice was unique in that he focused mainly  on  providing  care  to  patients  in  rural  communities  that  otherwise did not have access to a urologic physician and  surgeon.  In addition to Moose Lake, Dr. Stillwell flew his  plane  to  Mora  MN,  Onamia,  MN,  and  Grantsburg,  WI  regularly for more than twenty years. 

“Tom was extremely dedicated to serving the rural communities of Minnesota and Western Wisconsin,”  noted Dr. Jeffry Twidwell, a fellow urologist who worked closely with Dr. Stillwell at Minnesota Urology.   “He was one of a kind.  In today’s world, how many specialty physicians dedicate their professional careers  to serving rural areas…and travel to them by piloting their own planes?  He was an incredibly generous  and caring individual.” 

Dr. Stillwell was a board‐certified urologist who received his medical degree from the Medical College of  Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and completed his residency at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.  Prior to beginning his  career at Minnesota Urology, Dr. Stillwell served as a surgeon with the U.S. Marines Mobile Surgical  Hospital in Kuwait during Desert Storm.  He has been named a Top Doctor in the Minneapolis/St. Paul  Magazine numerous years, including 2019.     

Dr. Stillwell was an outstanding physician, colleague and friend who will be deeply missed.  All of us at  Minnesota Urology extend our condolences to his family, who remain in our thoughts and prayers. 

Original article can be found here ➤

A Minnesota doctor was found dead in the wreckage of a private airplane Thursday morning south of Duluth, more than 12 hours after the flight failed to arrive at its destination in the Twin Cities.

The single-engine plane, bound for the Crystal Airport, was located in a river about 7 a.m. northwest of the runway of the Moose Lake Carlton County Airport following a search and rescue operation, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The pilot was identified as Thomas Stillwell, 65, of Plymouth. Stillwell, a well-known urologist associated with North Memorial and Fairview health systems, was recently named a Top Doctor by Mpls.St. Paul Magazine.

He was a Navy veteran who served as a surgical field medic in the Gulf War and had for decades flown to rural communities such as Sandstone, Moose Lake and Grantsburg, Wis., to treat patients.

“I love to fly,” he said in a 2016 interview with Minnesota Flyer. “I think being a pilot is part of your genetics. It’s somewhere deep in you that, once it gets tapped, it’s kind of hard to resist. You must feed this need. If you don’t, you’re not happy.”

Randy Ciche, head of maintenance at the Moose Lake airport, said the plane was routinely used by Stillwell to do medical outreach around the state.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board will work to determine the cause of the crash.

Weather in the area at the time was not ideal for flying, according to the National Weather Service. Rain was changing to heavy snow, dropping visibility to less than a mile, said meteorologist Chris O’Brien.

Sustained winds of 10 mph were gusting up to roughly 20 mph, O’Brien added.

The plane had a flight plan filed with a 4:30 p.m. departure Wednesday from the Moose Lake and a 5:15 p.m. arrival planned in Crystal, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

After the scheduled arrival time passed, the FAA contacted authorities in Carlton County and neighboring Pine County to the south.

That notification set off searches of airports in Cloquet, Moose Lake and Hinckley by sheriff’s deputies from Carlton and Pine counties.

Radar for major airports in Duluth and the Twin Cities failed to pick up the plane.

The 32-year-old Mooney M20J is registered with the FAA as being owned by the nonprofit Club Cherokee and has the Crystal Airport as its address.

“The Minnesota aviation community is a close-knit family, and any time there is an aircraft incident, we are all affected,” club manager Bruce Killam said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “The pilot … was a long-standing and highly regarded member of Club Cherokee.”

Original article can be found here ➤


  1. Dr. Thomas Stillwell was an excellent, cautious, attention to detail pilot with over 4,000 hours logged by January 1, 2016 (his quote below) when Dr. Stillwell gave an interview to Minnesota Flyer staff. The article written from this interview was “Meet Me in Moose Lake.”
    "I have five log books, almost 4,000 hours," said Stillwell. "Every new airport I fly to I take a picture." Dr. Stillwell almost 4,000 hours logged 3 years 4 months ago, not 2,000 hours logged at the time his plane crashed into the river. By 5-8-19 Dr. Thomas Stillwell probably had closer to 5,000 hours logged flying again NOT 2,000 hours.

    Dr. Thomas Stillwell kept a vehicle at each airport he flew into where he was treating patients. He always had the option to drive home if he deemed it to be necessary.

    Therefore, had there been any doubt or risk regarding safety of flying back to Crystal Airport the afternoon of May 8, 2019, Dr. Thomas Stillwell would have driven his vehicle back to the Twin Cities on May 8, 2019 instead of flying. Dr. Thomas Stillwell would not flown the Mooney M20J 201, Tail # N111JP and risked putting himself into danger.
    Posted to Kathryn’s Report page anonymous on 5-19-19.

  2. I was a member of Club Cherokee for a number of years and interacted with Dr. Stillwell on many occasions. He was an exemplary person, a skilled and careful pilot, and someone I quite looked up to.

    To think that something like this can happen to someone who was so experienced and careful leads me to question my involvement in flying.

  3. The number of log books and the number of hours don't matter.

    The only hour that matters is the one you are getting ready to fly.