MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Authorities say a decision to fly low along the Mississippi River was a contributing factor in a small plane crash last October that killed a Princeton man and his wife.
The National Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the crash on Monday. The incident happened just after 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 13, 2017.
Chad Rygwall, 47, left work early that day to take his wife, Jill, on a leisure flight up the Mississippi River in his Cessna 172M. They left from the Princeton Airport, where his planed was stored in a hangar. The plane was flying low when it hit power lines and plummeted to the river below.
Witnesses near the scene recovered Jill Rygwall’s body, but couldn’t revive her. Chad Rygwall’s body was found two days later, still in the plane wreckage.
The NTSB report says the plane headed south until reaching the Mississippi River, then proceeded to fly at a low altitude. They approached a bend in the river and took a shallow left turn, when the plane hit power lines. The plane was at or below tree height before it hit power lines, and witnesses say it appeared to be Chad Rygwall’s intent. A post-recovery look at the plane showed no engine abnormalities.
The NTSB report notes aircraft are not allowed to operate less than 500 feet above surface in uncongested areas, unless landing or taking off, and they can’t fly at less than 1,000 feet in congested areas. Officials estimate the plane was flying at less than 100 feet above the river and within 400 feet of residences along the river before it crashed.
The report says Chad Rygwall’s flight instructor described him as “reckless” because he had a habit of low-level flying. Rygwall likely didn’t see the power lines due to the location of the bend in the river and the position of the sun at the time.