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NTSB releases new details on plane crash that killed 9 Idaho Falls family members

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IDAHO FALLS — The NTSB has released over 200 pages of investigative documents related to a plane crash that killed three Idaho Falls businessmen and six of their family members.

James Hansen, Jim Hansen, Kirk Hansen, Stockton Hansen, Logan Hansen, Kyle Naylor, Tyson Dennert, Jake Hansen and Houston Hansen all died when the Pilatus PC-12 they were in crashed in Chamberlain, South Dakota on Nov. 30, 2019. Josh Hansen, Matt Hansen, and Thomas Long were seriously hurt but survived.

RELATED | Tributes pour in for Hansen family as NTSB investigators travel to plane crash site

Kirk Hansen was flying the plane, registered to Conrad & Bischoff Inc. The family had landed in South Dakota the day before the crash for their annual hunting trip.

The NTSB has not released its final investigative report but the new documents contain witness statements, photos, weather reports, flight data recorder transcripts, aircraft details, the pilot’s record and additional information about the tragic incident.

Witness statements

The Hansen family stayed at the Thunderstick Lodge in Chamberlain and on the morning of the crash, everyone went hunting except Kirk Hansen and a passenger.

A lodge employee took the two men to the airport with a ladder and they stopped at a hardware store to buy isopropyl alcohol, according to the employee who spoke with an NTSB investigator.

“The pilot and passenger worked for about 3 hours to remove the snow and ice that had accumulated on the airplane overnight,” the witness statement said. “There was less than about 1/4 inch of ice on the airplane when they started. He (the witness) commented that the ladder they brought from the lodge was approximately 7 feet tall and did not allow them to get to the top of the tail.”

plane on runway
The Hansen family flew in this Pilatus PC-12, which is seen here on the Chamberlain, South Dakota runway moments before takeoff. | NTSB

The lodge employee said he asked Hansen not to leave and mentioned they had room for the group to stay another night.

“The pilot noted that they needed to get home. The pilot told him that the airplane was 98% good and the remaining ice would come off during takeoff,” the witness statement says.

It was snowing hard at the time the plane took off, according to weather reports and witnesses. The lodge employee noticed Hansen completed a flight control check before taxiing from the ramp and there was still snow on the left side of the aft fuselage.

The Chamberlain Airport Manager also spoke with an NTSB investigator. He said he had been plowing snow all morning and weather conditions were deteriorating.

“(He) stated that the pilot spent some time removing ice and snow from the airplane before the passengers arrived. He added that the pilot was pouring liquid on the airplane and appeared to be ‘chipping away’ at the ice,” the report says. “The pilot commented, ‘it’s coming off pretty good.'”

The airport manager remembered seeing the family get on the plane. The aircraft taxied down the runway, turned around and took off. About 15 minutes later, the manager received a call from the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center asking if the aircraft had taken off.

Another witness was at his mother-in-law’s house near the airport when he heard the plane take off. He sent an email to investigators saying it was “snowing so hard I could not see the plane. Her (mother-in-law’s) house sits where a person can look straight down the runway from the living room window.” He mentioned that the plane did not go over the house like all of the others do.

Cell phone video and photos of the plane taken from the runaway were included in the NTSC report. They show icicles and snow on the aircraft immediately before takeoff.

Cockpit voice recorder

Investigators were able to retrieve 18 minutes and 37 seconds of voice recordings from the cockpit. Two channels were recorded in “excellent” condition – one for the pilot and front seat passenger combined, the other for the cockpit area microphone.

The following events transpired based on the recorder:

  • 12:14:26 p.m. – the recording begins
  • 12:17:27 p.m. – a passenger says a prayer asking for protection during the flight
  • 12:19:02 p.m. – the engine starts
  • 12:22:29 p.m. – Chamberlain airport employee communicates weather conditions and other information to pilot
  • Between 12:23:54 p.m. – 12:29 p.m. – communication continues between pilot and airport employee
  • 12:29:34 p.m. – airport employee says ‘it don’t look good to me. I don’t know what you guys are thinkin’
  • 12:29:37 p.m. – pilot asks ‘is the runway in good condition?’ Airport employee responds, ‘I would say I can hardly keep up.’
  • 12:29:47 p.m. – pilot responds ‘uh we’re gonna be just fine.’
  • 12:29:54 p.m. – airport employee says ‘the runway is not clear’ followed by ‘you guys are crazy. I got berms on this thing. I gotta get the snow outta here’ and ‘that don’t look good to me.’
  • 12:30:32 p.m. – pilot responds ‘I think we’re gonna be just fine’
  • 12:31:59 p.m. – takeoff begins
  • 12:32:29 p.m. – stall warning sounds
  • 12:33:01 p.m. – sounds “similar to impact” are heard
  • 12:33:03 p.m. – recording ends

Airplane condition

In a preliminary report released in December 2019, the NTSB said when the plane took off, it began turning to the left. It climbed 170 feet above the ground when the wings banked right and rolled over steeply to the left. The aircraft reached its peak altitude of 460 feet.

RELATED | Preliminary report released in airplane crash that killed nine members of local family

Airspeed stayed between 102 and 112 mph during the initial climb, but then as the plane banked over, speed slowed to 92 mph. The data recorder stopped recording at 12:33 p.m. when the airplane crashed.

plane wreckage
Debris from the plane crash was spread across a path approximately 85 feet long. | NTSB

After the airplane made no contact with Air Traffic Control and did not appear on the radar by 12:40 p.m., the airport manager and the Brule County emergency dispatch center received a call notifying them of an overdue aircraft.

A property owner discovered the crash site around 2 p.m., about three-quarters of a mile west of the airport. The debris left an approximately 85-foot-long path with the engine and left wing separated from the main portion of the wreckage consisting of the fuselage, tail and right wing. The NTSB said there was no fire or explosion.

Investigators performed a comprehensive analysis on every part of the severely damaged plane. While 11 people were on board, the aircraft is designed to hold 10. Eight passenger and two crew seats were found in the wreckage and seatbelts for the passenger seats were found buckled, unbuckled and cut.

In their 2019 report, the NTSB said “no conclusions about the cause of the accident should be made based on the information contained in the preliminary report.”

It’s unknown when the final report on the crash will be completed and released to the public.

READ THE INVESTIGATIVE DOCUMENTS ON THE PLANE CRASH HERE

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