NTSB: Cause of plane crash that killed John Pagel, others remains unclear

INDIANAPOLIS (WBAY/AP) - Federal investigators are not sure what caused a 2018 plane crash in central Indiana that killed three men bound for Wisconsin, including dairy farmer John Pagel.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued its final report on the crash last week. The NTSB blames "an in-flight-loss of control for reasons that could not be determined based on the available evidence."

Pilot Nathan Saari reported the plane was out of control before it crashed about 60 miles northwest of Indianapolis on February 22, 2018.

Investigators could not determine if it was due to mechanical or human factors.

The crash killed John Pagel, owner of Kewaunee, Wisconsin-based Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy; his son-in-law, Steven Witcpalek; and pilot Nathan Saari.

CLICK HERE to read the final report.

According to the report, air traffic controllers asked Saari why the Cessna 441 twin turboprop bound for Green Bay was off-course. Saari reported a trim control problem. He got back on course for 13 minutes, then reported a trim problem again and said he was have difficulty controlling the plane. The plane drifted off course for another six minutes. It became increasingly erratic for two more minutes before it fell off radar.

The plane crashed at a high speed and damage was spread over a quarter-mile across several fields. The NTSB says it couldn't find all of the components of the plane's trim system or they weren't in a condition that could help their investigation -- and Saari never said which trim system he was having problems with.

Otherwise, the NTSB didn't find any problems with the plane or the engine that would explain the crash.


The pilot of a twin turboprop Cessna reported his plane was "out of control" shortly after taking off from an airport on the outskirts of Indianapolis, minutes before the crash that killed local farmer and businessman John Pagel, his son-in-law Steve Witcpalek, and the pilot, Nathan Saari.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report, the plane departed from Eagle Creek Airpark at 7:39 p.m. on February 22, bound for Green Bay Austin Straubel Airport. An Indianapolis controller asked Saari why he deviated from his assigned heading and altitude.

"The pilot reported that the airplane was out of control. The pilot... explained to the controller that he had a trim problem and difficulty controlling the airplane, but that he had the airplane back to straight and level."

He was given a new heading and clearance to climb to 13,000 feet, then turned over to a Chicago air traffic control center, which told him to climb to 20,000 then 23,000 feet and change his frequency.

"The pilot then transmitted that he needed a minute to get control of the airplane and that he was having difficulty with the trim. Communication and radar contract was then lost."

The NTSB report says the plane crashed into a plowed field. Wreckage was spread over a quarter mile, through the upper farm field, down a slope covered with brush and trees, and into a lower field.

The weather was overcast with 10 miles visibility, dictating the use of night instruments for flying.

The preliminary report details the events leading up to a crash and immediate findings but does not go into the investigation of the underlying cause. That report can take months to a year to complete.

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