Sarah Cooke Associated Press Writer
MARION (AP) A small plane that crashed near a private airstrip, killing its pilot and four skydivers, had made an abrupt turn just before going down, a federal investigator said Sunday. The Cessna 182 had just taken off from Skydive Lost Prairie when it crashed Saturday. Tom Little, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said it was too early to tell what caused the crash, but he said it appeared that the plane made a 180-degree turn just after takeoff and was only about 500 feet high before it plummeted to earth. “That was when it was lost sight of by witnesses and impacted the ground,” Little said. Little said he and representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration should have a preliminary report ready by Thursday. Crews removed the wreckage from the crash site Sunday afternoon. It was rainy and foggy Sunday morning, a stark change from the sunny, clear skies Saturday morning when the Cessna 182 took off with two Great Falls residents planning a tandem jump with two instructors. Instructors David M. Landeck, Jr. Of Missoula and Joel Atkinson of Kalispell, both 25, were killed in the crash, Flathead County officials said. The pilot, Troy Norling, 28, was from Onalaska, Wis., his stepfather confirmed Sunday night, and had been working at Skydive Lost Prairie for about 10 days. The tandem jumpers were identified as Jennifer Sengpiel and Kyle Mills, both in their mid-20s. They were members of the Great Falls Symphony and were engaged to be married at the end of the summer, friends said. Mills is from Minnesota and Sengpiel from Wisconsin. Symphony Executive Director Carolyn Valacich said the couple planned to leave Montana at the end of May, so Mills could perform with the Calgary Philharmonic and Sengpiel could work on her doctorate in music. “I’m assuming they just wanted to do one more wonderful thing in Montana,” Valacich told the Great Falls Tribune. Fred Sand, owner of Skydive Lost Prairie, said the two tandem jumpers would have undergone about an hour of training and paid $169 each for a 30-second free fall from 9,000 feet. Tandem jumpers are taught how to move around in an airplane with the instructor’s harness attached to theirs, how to position themselves during the free fall and how to position themselves for landing. “It’s sort of a dress rehearsal as best as we can simulate on the ground,” Sand said Sunday. The crash stunned area residents, who gather at Skydive Lost Prairie in late July and early August for its annual Lost Prairie Boogie, a 10-day skydiving festival. “Yesterday, everybody was coming in asking what happened? What happened?” Sylvia Lindahl, who has lived in Marion for three years said. “Yesterday was a sad day for all of us.” Saturday’s crash was the second fatal plane crash in Montana in less than 10 days. Two Illinois men died May 3 when a twin-engine jet crashed while trying to land at the airport near Dillon, in southwestern Montana.