The plane crash in Eden Prairie

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The newsroom is working on the plane crash in Eden Prairie today. You can find the particulars here.

I don’t — yet — have permission to post the images of the plane from the people holding the copyright, but here’s one from the 1980s. And another. (Received permission tonight. Thanks to Gary Chambers! Gary says he last saw the plane parked at Flying Cloud’s Air Expo last month. Its left engine was undergoing maintenance.)

It’s obvious that it had a life as a commuter in Florida before it was restored to its original splendor.

The registration of the plane is a little spotty. The FAA, officially, says the registration — N3038C — is “in question

The last time it had a trackable flight plan via online sites was in 2006.

Of course we don’t know what happened and won’t — officially — for months, but we can take the current evidence and reach an educated view of what might have been factors in play. Reports say the plane was in trouble right after it took off. That suggests an engine problem. It was returning to the airport and crashed north of it, and witnesses said it was wobbling just before it crashed, which indicates it had stalled (in aviation, stalling doesn’t refer to the engine, but to the inability of the wings to provide lift because the airplane had slowed to the point where enough air wasn’t flowing over the wings to provide the lift, and it simply falls).

Quite often, flight instructors advise against trying to return to the airport when a plane has an engine problem but to land “straight ahead.” Attempts to turn back and land on a runway frequently fail. This is why “safety zones” are created around airports. Building is restricted around an airport just for such occasions as today.

A controversy about the need for those, for example, is currently brewing in St. Paul, where residents say it’s too restrictive.

At the time of the crash, the winds at Flying Cloud were from the south, indicating that the plane may have taken off on runway 18.

In the picture below, this is the runway that intersects the two, right to left (click for larger image).

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The one area that doesn’t have a safety zone is runway 18. The airport is on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Minnesota River. Ahead is Valleyfair Amusement Park and Canterbury Downs racetrack, both of which would’ve been full of people today. (The main parking area for the PGA Championship at Hazeltine is Canterbury.) At the approach end (on the right in the picture above), there’s nothing but trees and a lake.

Today’s fatalities were the second and third general aviation accident fatalities in Minnesota this year. In June, a pilot was killed when he landed in a late-night rainstorm at Crystal airport. Today’s were the first deaths at Flying Cloud airport since 2001.

  • bsimon

    I recall the approach to 18 being a little hairy on windy days, but I was just a student. The lake is at a lower elevation than the airport, so winds coming across the airport from the south follow the terrain downhill. If you fly a low approach, you can get surprised by the downdraft when crossing the lakeshore.

    I don’t want to guess at what happened here, but can imagine a pilot being distracted with a malfunctioning airplane, getting into that slight downdraft, pulling on the yoke & inadvertently stalling.

  • Wakemeup

    Great article!