Minnesota News

Investigators examine weather, plane, pilot performance in Hermantown crash 

A house with a hole in its roof from a plane crash
Three people died when a small plane crashed into a home on Arrowhead Road in Hermantown, Minn., on Saturday.
John Myers | Duluth News Tribune

The wreckage of a plane that crashed minutes after taking off from the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, killing the pilot and two passengers, is on its way to the Twin Cities for a partial reconstruction and examination by aviation experts. 

Aaron McCarter, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, told MPR News that the remnants of the plane were hauled away Monday afternoon as part of the effort to determine the cause of the crash. The wreckage will be examined in south Minneapolis starting Tuesday morning. 

The Cessna 172 went down and hit a home in Hermantown, about two miles southwest of the airport, late Saturday night. The pilot, Tyler Fretland, 32, of Burnsville, and two passengers, siblings Alyssa Schmidt, 32, of St. Paul and Matthew Schmidt, 31, of Burnsville, died in the crash.

The plane struck the roof of a home and broke apart in the yard. No one on the ground, including two people who were inside the home, was physically injured.

The NTSB’s McCarter said representatives of the aircraft manufacturer and its engine maker and other officials will join his probe into the crash, although he said there was no immediate indication of a mechanical problem before the crash.  

McCarter said the plane took off in Duluth at about 11:10 p.m. on Saturday and crashed about 7 minutes later, apparently during the plane’s initial climb. “It was a very short flight,” he said. “They never got established on their route to down South St. Paul.” 

McCarter did say that the weather was less than ideal at the time of the crash, including a low cloud ceiling and precipitation.

“I wouldn't say it was hazardous weather. I would say it was low visibility and in mist, and it was a very dark night,” he said.

He said the control tower at the Duluth airport was staffed at the time. 

McCarter said the initial indication was that the weather may have imposed instrument flight rules, rather than the less-complicated visual flight rules. He said Fretland, the pilot, had a commercial pilot’s license and was instrument rated for flying aircraft. Fretland also filed a flight plan, indicating his destination in the Twin Cities. 

McCarter said investigators will be looking at many factors — about the plane, the pilot and the weather conditions — as they try to determine what caused the plane to crash.

The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district said Monday that Alyssa Schmidt, one of the passengers who died, had been teaching second grade at Echo Park Elementary School of Leadership, Engineering and Technology in Burnsville. She had been with the district since 2014, and previously taught kindergarten and third grade.

“We are deeply saddened over the tragic loss of three lives, including an incredibly talented young teacher who positively impacted students every day,” the district said in a statement. “District 196 and the Echo Park school community are focused on supporting staff, students and families through this sudden and difficult loss.”

The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report about 10 days after the start of an investigation, which may offer more details. It’s issued after a full examination of the wreckage, a complete analysis of the weather, and interviews with any air traffic control personnel or witnesses who may have details on the incident, as well as other relevant information. 

A full report on the crash is likely to be finished in about a year. 

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