Bystanders saw explosion after deadly plane crash in TRF, tried to help victims

Published: Sep. 23, 2017 at 9:43 PM CDT
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Three people have been confirmed dead after a small plane crashed in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. They have been identified as 69-year-old Moy Wing, 27-year-old Brian Duke, and 26-year-old Zach Ostertag, all of Rawlins, Wyoming.

The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office received a call around 7:50 Saturday morning that a small Cessna 182 aircraft had crashed in a field near the intersection of Center Avenue Northeast and 130th Street Northeast.

While there are no confirmed witnesses of the crash, neighbors heard the plane hit the ground, which they at first though was a gunshot sound or someone slamming a car door closed.

One neighbor VNL spoke to was one of the first two on scene. Donna and Les Cota could see the explosion of the plane from their home. The couple couldn’t tell what had exploded, as they didn’t see the plane’s descent, but Les Cota grabbed a fire extinguisher and drove towards the flames.

Cota and another neighbor both arrived at the crash to find the plane in pieces and burning. The two men called the authorities and attempted to put out pieces of burning clothing and material with the extinguisher, but realized it would be best left to the responding fire department.

Cota says he approached what appeared to be a pile of clothing on fire in an attempt to extinguish it and found it to be one of the passengers of the plane. The bodies of the three passengers were found at varying distances from the final resting place of the main portion of the plane’s wreckage.

Though no one saw the actual crash, Cota explained that from markings in the field, it looked as though the plane may have hit the ground once, bounced, and then came to rest further down the field.

Sheriff Ron Kunzia of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office says, while they don’t know what lead up to or caused the crash, that the plane may have been attempting to return to the Thief River Falls Airport shortly after take-off.

Drivers passing by said there was a low cloud celling around the time the plane crashed Saturday morning, and said that large flocks of geese often pass through the area, which can be a safety hazard for planes.

The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office closed off 130th Street NE to protect the crash scene until the Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board, and Cessna Textron Aviation arrive Sunday to conduct an investigation.