Sunday, September 13, 2020

Cessna 172H Skyhawk, N3720R: Fatal accident occurred September 12, 2020 near Seeley Lake Airport (23S), Powell County, Montana

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.

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

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Helena, Montana 
Location: Seeley Lake, MT 
Accident Number: WPR20LA304
Date & Time: September 12, 2020, 22:00 Local Registration: N3720R
Aircraft: Cessna 172
Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under:

On September 12, 2020, about 2200 mountain daylight time, a Cessna 172 airplane, N3720R, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Seeley Lake, Montana. The pilot and one passenger were fatally injured, and one passenger was seriously injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight.

Several witnesses reported that the airplane's engine "sputtered" prior to the airplane's impact with terrain. Local law enforcement and a Federal Aviation Administration inspector responded to the accident site. The site was located in heavily forested terrain. A survey of the accident site revealed that all major components of the airplane necessary for flight were located and that there was no post impact fire.

Reduced visibility was present due to forest fires, at the time of the accident.

The airplane was recovered to a secure location for future examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna
Registration: N3720R
Model/Series: 172 H
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site:
Condition of Light: Night
Observation Facility, Elevation: KMSO,3189 ft msl
Observation Time: 09:53 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 31 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 16°C /3°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: / ,
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility: 6 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.98 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed:
Departure Point: 
Destination: Seeley Lake, MT (23S )

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious 
Latitude, Longitude: 47.197223,-113.44555

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

Charles and Peggy Wolff

The Green Valley man who died when the small plane he was piloting crashed in Seeley Lake, Montana, late Saturday left behind a legacy of mentorship and helping others in the communities where he lived.

Charles E. Wolff, 67, of Green Valley, and Wayne D. Cahoon, 59, of Seeley Lake, Montana, died when the Cessna 172H Skyhawk went down north of Seeley Lake Airport. Wayne’s son, Christian Cahoon, survived and on Monday made it through the first of what is expected to be many surgeries at a Seattle hospital, according to Charlie’s wife, Peggy.

The Cahoons were family friends and have been “rooted in the [Seeley Lake] community forever,” Peggy said at her Green Valley home Tuesday. Wayne ran a log home business and just three weeks ago helped one of Peggy's sisters move one onto her property.

Charlie grew up on a farm, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked at Boeing for 30 years in Seattle managing design engineers. He retired 12 years ago and he and Peggy moved to Green Valley.

The couple would spend their Christmases golfing in Phoenix. Peggy had been reading about Green Valley and on a whim suggested they drive down one Christmas Eve to check it out. They bought their house the day after Christmas.

“We just knew,” Peggy said. “People here are so friendly. We just had a strong sense of people our age enjoying life." 

“He’s a loss to this community, the Seeley Lake community, his family in Wisconsin... friends in Seattle,” she said, sitting with sisters who flew from Montana to be by her side.

They all agreed. Charlie was a “uniter of people” who loved to bring out the best in others.

The couple never had children of their own but Uncle Charlie held a special place in the lives of all his nieces and nephews, the sisters said. He would bring out the best in them through mentorship and encouragement.

One of her sisters shared the story of a nephew getting called into the office of a professor this week who’d lost his wife in an accident, knowing the young man was struggling with his uncle’s death. He told the nephew to “take something of Charlie’s life that he gave you and make it part of your legacy.” She said it’s something they all want to do now.

Peggy comes from a family of eight sisters and two brothers; Charlie is survived by two sisters and a brother who live in Wisconsin.

Charlie was president of the Seeley Lake Flying Club, a six-handicap golfer, an active member at American Legion Post 66, and he led an investment group for the Green Valley Computer Club. He was also a monitor at the GVR woodworking shop and former president of the Soledad Homeowners Association. He also chaired the Green Valley Council’s Road Committee.

“He was pretty damn perfect,” Peggy said. “Except he was messy, he was my little piglet. But that was OK.”

Tony Day, Charlie’s neighbor and best friend, developed a bond with Charlie he said he’d only had with two other people in his life.

The two were known for helping neighbors with household projects. “No job too big or too small,” said Day, a former contractor. They would install towel holders, fans, microwaves; anything that needed to be done they took on.

When neighbors started offering money for their services the men donated it to kids who another neighbor worked with at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Pima County. They also donated proceeds to Continental School families for supplies and summer school tuition. Neighbors would give more than the going rate knowing it would be going to a good cause, Day said.

When the two golfed (Charlie was the better golfer), Charlie was known to hand out candy to golf course employees, his own way of reaching out and getting to know them better.

Day called Antonio, a groundskeeper from Torres Blancas, Tuesday and broke the news to him; Antonio arrived at the Wolff’s house 15 minutes later. When Antonio saw Peggy he gave her a hug and they cried together, Antonio in disbelief. He said Charlie was a good man.

Day shared a theory he had about Charlie, that Charlie “changed when he came here.”

“I think when he was young he was just a scallywag... and then the last years of his life he was close to perfect. Nobody could maintain that level of perfectness for 67 years, impossible!” Day said.

But Day’s theory was “blown up” when he met some of Charlie’s older friends and found out he was pretty much the same Charlie his whole life.

”The greatest man I ever knew,” Peggy said.

Wayne Cahoon’s Memorial Fund 

Donations have surged for the father who died and son who survived in a plane crash near Seeley Lake on Saturday.

The Missoula County Sheriff's Office on Sunday identified Charles Wolff, 67, and Wayne Cahoon, 59, as the two who died in the crash shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday when the plane piloted by Wolff wrecked north of the Seeley Lake Airport. 

A GoFundMe page set up on Sunday has identified the second passenger who survived as Christian Cahoon, Wayne Cahoon's son. By late Monday afternoon, 159 people had poured $21,750 into the $30,000 fundraiser page titled "Christian Cahoon's Medical Relief Fund."

"Wayne Cahoon's Memorial Fund," also on GoFundMe, had likewise raised nearly $3,000 of its $10,000 goal since it launched Monday morning.

"An amazing man, but if you met Wayne, you already knew that," the page reads. "He touched the lives of so many people, and brought so much joy to everyone around him."

Seeley Lake Search and Rescue, along with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office, the Powell County Sheriff's Office, and scores of volunteers, sprang into the woods Saturday night after a report at 10 p.m. of a downed plane north of the Seeley Lake airport.

The Seeley Swan Pathfinder reports more than a dozen search and rescue volunteers, law enforcement and civilians assisted in the search through the night. The plane was found near 1 a.m. Sunday just north of the Seeley Lake airstrip, the Pathfinder reported.

Allen Kenitzer, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration, said Monday the plane crashed 1.5 miles north of the airport shortly before 10 p.m. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, Kenitzer said. The NTSB will lead the investigation and determine the probable cause of the accident, he said.

Wayne Cahoon had been the Seeley-Swan High School Head Golf Coach, and was named Class C Golf Coach of the year in 2017, 2015 and 2014, according to the Pathfinder. 

Two Bear Air Rescue preparing to land at the north end of the Seeley Lake Airport airstrip Sunday morning around 1:15 a.m. Seeley Lake ambulance crew received the patient and transported them to Missoula.

SEELEY LAKE, Montana – Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue and local law enforcement assisted Powell County Saturday, September 12th after a Cessna 172 was reported downed north of the Seeley Lake Airport. Pilot Charles Wolff, 67 of Green Valley, Arizona and part-time Seeley Lake resident, and Seeley Lake resident Wayne Cahoon, 59, died in the crash. The Seeley Lake Fire Department transported the other passenger to Missoula via ambulance with severe injuries since Life Flight was unable to fly. The patient was later flown to Washington.

Just before 10 p.m. Saturday night, the Sheriff’s Office received two reports regarding suspicious activity north of the airport. The first called reported a plane sputtering and they thought they heard a crash. A separate caller reported hearing an airplane crash into the woods.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Florida received notification from a plane’s Emergency Locator Transmitter that provided a rough GPS location for the plane. Local pilots also received notification of the emergency beacon.

Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue was dispatched at 9:50 p.m. U.S. Forest Service Federal Officer Tyler Robinson was already searching the area. Local pilots Mike Lindemer and Kal Kovatch used electronic tracking to hone in the search area. More than a dozen search and rescue volunteers, law enforcement and civilians assisted in the search.

Incident Commander Missoula County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Bob Parcell requested Two Bear Air Rescue out of Kalispell but they asked local resources respond first. After learning that Life Flight would not fly due to the heavy smoke, Two Bear Air agreed to assist with the search.

Sunday at 12:52 a.m., as Two Bear Air arrived in the area, Robinson and his ground crew found the aircraft just north of the Seeley Lake airstrip.

“It was a really thick area. You had to be right up on it to see [the aircraft],” said Parcell. “It was pitch black on top of that.”

One passenger was found conscious but severely injured. Two Bear Air landed at the site, loaded the passenger and flew to the north end of the airstrip. Seeley Lake Volunteer Fire Department assumed care of the patient. The patient was transported via ambulance to Missoula and has since been flown to Washington for further treatment.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends during this very difficult time,” wrote the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office in a press release.

Parcell added, “I’m very proud of our responders and how they went about their job, how fast they got it done and how professional they were. They were the only bright spot out of this whole tragedy. The community can be very proud of them in this kind of situation.”

UPDATE- The Missoula County Sheriff's Office confirmed the plane was found just before 1 a.m. Sunday morning.

The pilot, 67-year-old Charles Wolff, and one passenger, 59-year-old Wayne Cahoon died in the crash. the other passenger survived the crash and was transported to Harborview Hospital in Seattle and is in critical condition.

The Missoula County Sheriff's Office said Sunday a pilot and passenger died in a plane crash reported late Saturday.

At approximately 9:50 p.m. Saturday, Florida Air Refuge Center reported the possible plane crash.

The location was quickly identified as north of the Seeley Lake Airport.

Missoula County Deputies and Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue quickly mobilized to assist Powell County Sheriff’s Office to locate the plane, according to a news release from the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.

The plane was located at 12:52 a.m. on September 13th.

The pilot and one passenger died in the crash, according to the news release; they have been identified as Charles E. Wolff, 67 of Green Valley, Arizona, and Wayne D. Cahoon, 59 of Seeley Lake, Montana.

The second passenger survived the crash and was transported to a hospital in Washington State, the Sheriff's Office said.

"Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends during this very difficult time," said the Missoula County Sheriff's Office.

MISSOULA, Montana — One man from Seeley Lake and another from Arizona died in a plane crash reported Saturday night north of Seeley Lake Airport.

Missoula County Sheriff's Office reports that Charles E. Wolff, 67, of Green Valley, Arizona, and Wayne D. Cahoon, 59, of Seeley Lake, died in the crash. A press release states that the pilot and one passenger died, but it does not state which man was piloting the plane.

Another passenger survived and has been transported to a hospital in Washington state.

Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue and Powell County Sheriff’s Office worked together to find the plane at 12:52 a.m.

The crash was originally reported at 9:50 p.m. by Florida Air Refuge Center.


  1. Back story on Two Bear Air is interesting. Technology in the helo is ITAR restricted from going into Canada.

  2. The N# for this plane is N3720R.. Seeley Lake Flying Club.. 1966 Cessna 172H

  3. The ELT was detected via satellite monitoring at Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The "Refuge Center" is a typo or text to speech mistake.

  4. My Mother was also killed in an experimental BD-4 in 1975 - Taking off to the north - Departure stall - Sad for the families - I was 13