Fatal Sauk Rapids plane crash blamed on open canopy

Firefighters work to get the flames under control after a small plane crashed into a home at 731 Garden Place in Sauk Rapids, Minn., Friday, June 20, 2014.  Jason Wachter | St. Cloud Times via AP

The National Transportation Safety Board today concluded its investigation into last summer’s crash of an airplane into a Sauk Rapids, Minn., home that killed two people aboard the airplane.

The NTSB said the pilot likely lost control after its canopy opened in flight, but it says it cannot determine whether wake turbulence from a jet landing at St. Cloud airport had anything to do with the crash.

According to the investigator:

About 5 minutes after the experimental amateur-built RV-6 airplane departed from a local airport, an air traffic controller notified the pilot that an Airbus was 30 miles southwest of the airport and inbound. About 7 minutes later, the pilot reported that he had the Airbus in sight and then stated that he was going to take a picture of it. No further communications were received from the pilot.

A witness reported observing the RV-6 “rocking back and forth” before the “nose went down” and then seeing two objects come off the airplane when it entered a descent. Another witness reported hearing engine noise before observing the airplane enter a steep nose-down descent. The airplane impacted a house and was destroyed by a postimpact fire.

The two objects that the witness observed coming off the RV-6, which were a headset and PVC material, were later located near the accident site and did not exhibit thermal damage or soot. The exit of the two objects from the airplane’s interior indicates that the canopy likely opened in flight, which led to the loss of pitch control.

Fire damage precluded examination of the airplane’s canopy and systems; therefore, the reason for the canopy opening in flight could not be determined.

In the wreckage was the pilot’s logbook, which indicated an incident had occurred nearly a year earlier in which the canopy had come unlatched.

Killed in the crash were pilot Scott Olson, 60, and Alexander Voigt, 16, who was staying with St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis. He was set to return to Germany the following week.