SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- The pilot and a passenger of a small plane that crashed after taking off from a small South Dakota airport on Thanksgiving weekend, killing nine of 12 members of an Idaho family who were on board, spent three hours clearing snow and ice from the aircraft before departure, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report released Tuesday.
The single-engine plane made it less than a mile from the airport in Chamberlain, South Dakota, and only 460 feet into the air before it crashed shortly after noon on Nov. 30, according to the report, which doesn't list a cause of the crash or the name of the pilot. Three of the plane's warning systems — the stall warning, stick shaker and stick pusher — activated within seconds of liftoff, the report states.
The crash killed nine members of the Hansen family, including the pilot. The family, which is from Idaho Falls, Idaho, flew to South Dakota for an annual pheasant-hunting trip. They were returning home when the plane crashed. Although the report did not name the pilot, Kirk Hansen had a private pilot certificate and his medical information was up to date with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The area was under a winter storm warning at the time of the crash and the airport's weather station reported conditions that were worsening by the minute. Snowfall increased from light to moderate, and visibility reduced from three-quarters of a mile to half a mile.
A witness who was about half a mile from the airport reported hearing the plane running well for a few seconds but was not able to see it because of snow and clouds.
Gary Robb, an aviation lawyer, said the weather should have dissuaded the pilot from taking off.
“It's not just a bright yellow caution," he said. “It’s a big red stop sign.”
Ice on the wings of a plane can make it more difficult to achieve the lift and thrust needed to fly, Robb said.
The plane was near its capacity weight, Robb said. The Pilatus PC12 is usually equipped with seating for seven passengers, but is rated on the weight it carries rather than the number of passengers.
Federal investigators recovered a “black box" data recorder from the crash site, which should help their investigation into the probably cause or causes of the crash. Their full investigation report will be released in a year or two.