Search for missing aviator ends

The search for Andrew Lindberg of Farmington ended tragically today when the wreckage of the Farmington man’s plane was found in Clearwater County.

Searchers have been looking for Lindberg since he failed to arrive at a hunting outing in Hallock on Friday.

Now the only unanswered question is: What happened? Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board will have a better idea when they get their first glance at the wreckage. Wreckage scattered over some distance might indicate an attempt at an emergency landing. Wreckage in a small area might indicate what investigators refer to as “controlled flight into terrain.”

It probably wasn’t the former. First, there was no radio transmission. Second, the wreckage was found 21 miles southeast of Mahnomen. In the route map below (click for larger view), the orange line is the route. The airplane (denoted by the “X”) was found along that line. An emergency would’ve led the pilot to turn toward two nearby airports, or turn back toward Park Rapids. He apparently didn’t.

terrain_mahnomen.jpg

A possible factor is the difficulty of flying in the conditions, considering the terrain. It was night-time, there was no moon, and this is the terrain (via Google Earth):

terrain_mahnomen.jpg

It’s also near the Chippewa National Forest. There would’ve been almost no lights visible on the ground. There was no moon on Friday. It wouldn’t have appeared over the horizon in Mahnomen until 5:13 Saturday morning. It would have been difficult to detect the horizon. There’s also plenty of swamps and water in the area, and the air temperature was cooling. The temperature/dewpoint spread around that time was less than 2 degrees in Mahnomen. That means fog was likely forming, too.

These are conditions that are challenging for even the most experienced pilot. They would have more so, of course, for a pilot with very little experience. Mr. Lindberg got his pilot’s certificate in September, according to reports.

  • Question

    I know nothing about flying, so this is probably a basic question. Wouldn’t an altimeter show him that he was flying too low?

  • John P.

    I’m no pilot either, but I think an altimieter would show altitude above sea level, not above the ground.

  • Bob Collins

    The JFK Jr. accident is an example of what can happen when you lose visual references. First, you have to be trained — and comfortable — with what the instruments are telling you, because your body will lie to you and tell you, for example, that you’re upright when you’re not.

    You also have to consider 5 other instruments and reconcile them all,including your attitude indicator, airspeed, vertical speed indicator, etc., to tell you how you’re oriented.

    The FAA has an interesting simulator that pilots can see just how fast it all goes south when you lose visual cues. It’s frightening, in many ways. You can also get disoriented just reaching down to pick up a pencil.

    I don’t know, of course, what happened in this particular case. The plane may have had an autopilot, even. I thought it was interesting that he sent a text message while flying. Even just looking down and looking up can cause spatial disorientation, though — as I said — I don’t know that that’s what took place here. The conditions were certainly right for it, though.

  • Tyler

    Wow, 5 instruments? Could someone create another instrument that combines this info into a “plane orientation” display that shows the plane’s orientation to the ground, along with proportional arrows showing directional velocity?

    Or should I just rephrase that and ask – how hard would it be to combine 5 instruments into 1?

  • Bob Collins

    Six actually. It’s called the Sacred Six. They’re being replaced by electronic flight information systems (EFIS) which show a pilot everything on one box and, i some cases, create electronic displays of the terrain below.

    But it’s highly unlikely that would’ve been installed in an old Piper.

  • sad story

    //The FAA has an interesting simulator that pilots can see just how fast it all goes south when you lose visual cues. It’s frightening, in many ways. You can also get disoriented just reaching down to pick up a pencil.

    and its not like you can just pull over if you get disoriented.

    They showed a photo (it looked like one of those self photos) of he and his wife. Cute photo. My heart goes out to her and the family.

  • GregS

    A side note.

    Andrew’s plane was located by a volunteer. A guy who, I assume, donated his time and money to fly a search pattern.

    Whenever these tragedies occur, there are always volunteers. It is the better side of us.

  • Bob Collins

    Very good point, Greg. I was also struck yesterday by the faces of rescuers (many of them volunteers) at the bus crash in Austin, yesterday. Well done by all.