Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Piper PA-31T1 Cheyenne I, N926K: Fatal accident occurred April 20, 2020 near Billings Logan International Airport (KBIL), Yellowstone County, Montana

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Helena, Montana
Piper Aircraft; Wichita, Kansas
Hartzell Propeller; Piqua, Ohio

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf 


Location: Billings, MT
Accident Number: WPR20LA128
Date & Time: 04/20/2020, 0950 MDT
Registration: N926K
Aircraft: Piper PA31T
Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On April 20, 2020 about 0950 mountain daylight time, a Piper PA-31T1 airplane, N926K, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident about 1-1/2 miles west of Billings Logan International Airport (BIL), Billings, Montana. The airline transport pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 local flight.

According to ATC information, the pilot requested to taxi to runway 28L for takeoff, and then perform pattern work, and land on runway 28R at BIL. After the pilot held short of runway 28L, the controller cleared the pilot for takeoff with instructions to extend the upwind leg. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot was instructed to enter the left traffic pattern for runway 28R twice, with no response. A subsequent attempt was made to establish communication, with no response. About a minute and a half after the airplane departed, a column of smoke was observed west of the airport.

Radar data showed the airplane departing runway 28L and remaining on runway centerline heading for the length of the flight. The airplane's altitude climbed to about 100 ft above ground level and the airplane's groundspeed increased to 81 knots soon after departure, and then decreased to 70 knots before dropping off radar.

Witnesses located near the departure end of runway 28L watched the airplane through a window, depart the runway with its gear not retracted. The airplane was lower than normal as it neared the end of the runway. All the witnesses moved outside to watch as the airplane flew away from their location. One of the witnesses stated that the airplane had a "slow descent trajectory and a slight-nose up attitude." The airplane passed over a hill and out of view. None of the witness reportedly saw the accident sequence but saw the column of smoke rising from the accident site. Another witness who was sitting in his vehicle near the accident site saw the airplane pass about 250 ft in front of his position. The airplane's wings were level and the landing gear was up when it struck the ground. He lost sight of the airplane as it flew into a nearby coulee.

Ground scars found near the top of a coulee consisted of the airplane's fuselage impact mark and symmetrical propeller strikes consistent with the airplane impacting the ground in a shallow, nose-up, wings-level attitude. The airplane then continued over the coulee about 410 ft, and about 75 ft down before impacting the side of the coulee where a postimpact fire ensued. All major structural components of the airplane were located within the debris field.

The wreckage was recovered to a secure facility for further examination. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper
Registration: N926K
Model/Series: PA31T 1
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light:Day 
Observation Facility, Elevation: KBIL, 3570 ft msl
Observation Time: 1553 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 2 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 14°C / -2°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 6000 ft agl
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 14 knots / , 290°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.98 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Billings, MT (BIL)
Destination: Billings, MT (BIL)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries:N/A 
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: On-Ground
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 45.816944, -108.589167 (est)

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

The pilot who was killed in an airplane crash Monday morning about a mile and a half from the Billings airport has been identified.

The pilot has been identified as Lloyd Gerber, 64, of Billings, according to Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder.

Gerber died of smoke and combustible inhalation from a fire that broke out after the plane crashed, according to Linder. 

Gerber was flying a Piper PA-31T1 Cheyenne I airplane, practicing takeoffs and landings, when the plane crashed just before 10 a.m. on Monday, according Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Allen Kenitzer.

Gerber was pronounced dead on the scene of the crash at the Rod and Gun Club, Linder said. 

Emergency crews worked to recover Gerber from the airplane, which crashed in a deep coulee behind the Rod and Gun clubhouse, and were able recover Gerber from the aircraft around 1:30 p.m. on Monday.

Gerber was the only occupant of the plane, Linder said. The airplane is registered to FMR Aviation LLC, out of Miles City.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation. An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the crash, according to an NTSB spokesperson.

An FAA investigator also arrived in Billings on Monday to assist with the investigation. 

On Monday smoke could be seen from the crash site off Rod and Gun Club Road. Billings firefighters knocked down a small brush and timber fire that broke out from the crash fairly quickly, Linder said.

The Billings Fire Department, Montana Highway Patrol, American Medical Response, Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting with the Billings airport, and the sheriff's office responded to the crash.


Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder says the coroner's office has a tentative ID on the victim of Monday's plane crash, but they are awaiting dental records before releasing a positive identification. 

An autopsy reports the cause of death as asphyxia from inhalation of combustibles, or smoke inhalation as a result of the plane crash and fire. 

At this time, there is still no information as to the cause of the crash. Investigators are still on the scene working to procure that information. 

Shane Ketterling, Assistant Director of Aviation and Transit for the Billings Logan International Airport, says the plane was in Billings for maintenance and today's flight was a test.

The plane flew into Billings over two months ago from Miles City. The plane is listed as owned by FMR Aviation LLC.

At this time, the identity of the deceased has not been released, as authorities are working to notify the family.

Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder says one person has died in the plane crash near the Billings airport. 

Kevin Ploehn, Airport Operations Director for Billings Logan International Airport, says the plane was a Piper PA-31T1 Cheyenne I with one soul on board. He says the plane landed upside down in a ravine near the Billings Rod & Gun Club. 

Right now the Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident, the FAA and NTSB will be arriving on scene this afternoon. Once they arrive, the scene will be turned over to those agencies.

The Sheriff's Department will remain on site to secure the crash scene. Montana Highway Patrol will map the area with a drone. 

Kevin Ploehn with Billings Logan International Airport confirms that a small aircraft has crashed near the airport. 

A woman who lives in Rehberg Ranch says she heard a loud bang and felt her house shake when a plane crashed in the area near the Billings Rod and Gun Club around 10 a.m. She says her husband was driving back to their home when he saw a plume of black smoke erupt. 

Several emergency vehicles responded to the area near the Billings Logan International Airport around 10 a.m. where a large plume of black smoke was seen. 


BILLINGS - The Yellowstone County Coroner's Office is waiting on dental records to positively identify the victim of Monday’s plane crash.

Coroner Cliff Mahoney said his office has a tentative identification, but they are not able to confirm it without the dental records.

Mahoney hoped to obtain the records later in the day Tuesday.

A Piper PA-31T1 Cheyenne I plane crashed west of Billings Logan International Airport Monday just before 10 a.m.

The pilot was the only person on board the plane.

The Piper PA-31T1 Cheyenne I was registered to a flying company out of Miles City.

An investigator with the Federal Aviation Administration arrived in Billings Monday evening to begin the investigation on what caused the plane to crash.


BILLINGS — One Billings family in the Rehberg Ranch subdivision originally thought the Monday plane crash near their house was a grass fire before more details emerged.

Brian Johnson, 45, is the father of 16-year-old Chloe and 13-year-old Bella. The trio was at home around 10 a.m. when the Piper PA-31T1 Cheyenne I plane carrying one person crashed, killing the pilot.

“At about 9:45 a.m., I was just wrapping up a meeting with my staff … I looked out my office window and saw I looked out my office window and saw billowing black smoke. I thought one of the houses down the street was on fire," Brian said.

Brian grabbed his cell phone and rushed outside to see if there was anything he could do to help.

"Then I noticed (the smoke) was actually the coulee, the city park land that’s kind of in between the Rehberg Ranch neighborhood and the hillside of the Rod and Gun Club," Brian said.

Brian's daughters have never seen anything like this before. They knew something was up when their dad rushed outside.

“I was doing homework and I saw my dad go outside, so I went outside. When I got outside I pulled out my phone and thought ‘wow, this is kind of cool.' I’ve never seen a fire before around this area. I’ve seen them in the (eastern) direction, but never that close to our house. So immediately I was thinking is it a grass fire? Are we going to need to evacuate or anything. How close is it? Is anybody hurt?" Bella said.

Brian called 911 and learned that first responders were already on their way to the crash site.

Cloe also originally thought the crash was a grass fire, because the area the smoke was coming from an area that dries out in the warmer months.

“Well I saw black smoke. And obviously I know that black smoke isn't good. I automatically thought that it was a grass fire because it gets pretty dry down there. Then when I found out that it was a plane, we were always checking the news," Cloe said.

From inside the family's house on Saddle Back Trail, no one heard the crash.

“We just see planes flying overhead all the time. I didn’t even hear it. I thought that I would have heard a crash or something. But I didn’t hear anything," Bella said.

The family said residents in Rehberg Ranch usually see planes flying in to land because the subdivision is under aircrafts' approach to the Billings Logan International Airport.

“It’s nice to sit out on your porch and watch the aircraft. But we don’t really like them that close. It’s pretty nuts. It’s crazy that it sounds like someone may have lost their life. That’s super sad. Our thoughts go out to them and their families for sure," Brian said.

The smoke from the plane crash dissipated within about 15 minutes, Brian said.

“After the first responders were up here, the black smoke started turning white pretty quickly. Which obviously means they were starting to put things out. (The smoke) was probably gone within 10 or 15 minutes. It was really cooled off quickly after that and then completely gone," Brian said.

The family wanted to thank the many first responders who helped with the crash. They saw the Yellowstone County sheriff's deputies, ambulances, Billings fire trucks and airport personnel.

“I can not believe how quickly they were out here. It just makes us feel so safe knowing that our community and our city services are that quick at responding to things. Thank you to them," Brian said.


1 comment:

  1. A test flight following maintenance, odds are a mechanical malfunction due to a faulty repair.