SULA, Mont. (AP) — An airplane that crashed near a western Montana ski area, killing its pilot, was an antique that was being flown to Montana from Florida, Ravalli County officials said.
The twin-engine Grumman G-21 Goose amphibious plane had been flown from Florida to Minnesota before Michael Blume, 62, of Burnsville, Minnesota, took over to bring it to Hamilton, Undersheriff Steve Holton said.
The plane crashed and caught fire Tuesday afternoon in the parking lot of the Lost Trail ski area lodge near the Montana-Idaho border. Blume was the only person on board, Holton said.
Aaron Hoffman of Salmon, Idaho, was in his car and just getting ready to pull out of the lodge parking lot Tuesday afternoon when the plane crashed about 50 feet away.
“It fell out of the sky right next to his car,” witness Scott Grasser said Wednesday.
Hoffman was the last of about 60 people to leave a workshop held by the Idaho governor’s Office of Energy Resources and the Sustainable Northwest nonprofit group, Grasser said.
“I believe there were cars parked right in the spot where the plane crashed,” said Grasser, who just wrapped up a woody biomass workshop at the lodge. “People had only left 15 minutes to a half hour earlier. We were just very fortunate.”
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Larry Lewis said the airplane appeared to come straight down into the ground and there was no evidence the pilot had tried to land in the parking lot.
“The aircraft wasn’t in landing configuration,” and the landing gear was not deployed, Lewis said.
Grasser said he believes the pilot did everything he could. “I’m sure he knew he was in a horrible spot. He did what every honorable pilot would do and tried to save as many people as he could,” he said.
NTSB investigators will talk to witnesses, look at maintenance records and interview people at airports the pilot used to search for clues to the probable cause of the crash, Lewis said, adding that the plane was an antique likely built in the late 1930s or early 1940s.
The plane had made stops in Dillon, Montana and Salmon, Idaho before the crash, Holton said.
The crash report could take six months to a year to complete, Lewis said.