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NTSB releases information from 2015 plane crash

A single engine airplane, flown by pilot Daniel Ortner, of North Hudson, crashed in the area of 150th Street and 30th Avenue in the Town of Alden on Monday, July 27, 2015, around 5:24 p.m. (Photo submitted by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

The airplane crash that claimed four Hudson-area lives last year in Polk County occurred after the plane was seen performing aerobatics, according to a report issued this month by federal investigators.

The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) released factual findings from the July 27, 2015, crash near Amery that left pilot 44-year-old North Hudson resident Daniel Ortner and his three passengers — Eric J. Larson, 47, Michael J. Larson, 20, and Matthew E. Larson, all of Hudson — dead.

The report precedes a final probable cause report, which likely won’t be released for several more months.

A summary of the report, released March 9, states witnesses reported seeing the plane perform maneuvers immediately before the crash.

One witness reported seeing the plane in a steep climb, before “making a circle and then twisting” before disappearing behind a treeline.

Another witness saw the plane, a 1959 Beechcraft M35 Bonanza model, pointed nose-down with its wings rocking.

“Three other witnesses noticed the airplane in a spiraling descent prior to impact and stated the airplane had previously been performing aerobatics, ‘tricks,’ or ‘stunts,’” the report states.

The plane was operated by St. Croix Bonanza Association and was destined for Voyager Village Airstrip near Webster.

Toxicology tests performed on Ortner revealed no trace of drugs or alcohol.

The plane’s co-owner, identified in the NTSB docket as New Richmond Airport Manager Mike Demulling, estimated the plane became airborne after about 1,700 feet down the runway — noting that a typical ground run takes about 1,000 feet.

“He was concerned for weight and balance when he saw there were four persons in the airplane,” the report states.

Demulling described Ortner as “a competent pilot who was pretty cautious,” according to records from an interview he conducted with an NTSB investigator.

Analysis of the plane and its occupants revealed an estimated combined weight of 3,145 pounds.

The report states the maximum takeoff weight for airplane was 3,150 pounds.

An examination of the aircraft and its engine revealed no mechanical malfunctions or failures, according to the report. An evaluation of the plane’s on-board receiver with GPS capability revealed no flight data was stored on the device.

A person identified in the report as a “close friend” of Ortner’s described how the pilot had previously flown at low altitude and frequently performed in-flight “practice stalls.”

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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