NTSB begins investigation of plane crash


All of the wreckage recovered from a fatal airplane crash south of Chinook has been taken to a National Transportation Safety Board facility so a team of experts can re-create the plane's final minutes, an NTSB investigator said today.

The process, called a "tear-down," will be performed near Spokane, Wash., said Kurt Anderson, who is heading the investigation of the crash that killed two Poplar men Thursday afternoon.

The Cessna Cardinal 177 crashed into a coulee about 8 miles south of Chinook about 5 p.m. Thursday, killing Albert and Michael Kirn. The plane was registered to Michael Kirn, Anderson said.

Albert Kirn, 66, was the uncle of Michael Kirn, 45, Blaine County Coroner Marvin Edwards said today. The two were killed on impact, Edwards said.

The lone survivor of the crash, Kristen Buckles, 20, is recovering at Benefis Healthcare in Great Falls. She was listed in good condition this morning, Benefis spokeswoman Brandy Solyst said.

The three were returning to Poplar after attending the Great Falls sentencing hearing for the man convicted of fatally stabbing Albert Kirn's son on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in April. Tracy Alan McGowan, 32, was sentenced in U.S. District Court to four years and three months in prison, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The plane was apparently attempting to make a forced landing on a county road when it clipped a tree and crashed, Blaine County Sheriff Glenn Huestis said.

Emergency workers with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office and the Chinook and Chinook rural fire departments responded to the crash, Blaine County Commissioner Art Kleinjan said last week.

The crash sparked a fire that burned about an acre, Kleinjan said.

Anderson said the initial investigation indicates the plane was attempting to make an emergency landing.

According to Anderson, Buckles told an emergency worker after the crash that the plane had lost power.

"There are several factors that can cause that," Anderson said. "Some of those are related to the engine, and some are related to other systems in the aircraft."

The final investigation will be based on the tear-down and statements from Buckles, Anderson said.

Buckles has been unable to speak to investigators, Anderson said.

The main focus of the tear-down will be on the airplane's engine, he added.

"Tear-downs entail disassembling components of the aircraft, in this case the engine, and inspecting it. Tear- downs usually take a couple of days. We have a team of people who are involved in that process."

Nearly all of the airplane was recovered, Anderson said.

"Much of it was obviously burnt, but most of the basic outline of the airplane was there," he said.

The crash is the second fatal aircraft accident in Blaine County in the last five years, according to NTSB records. Records prior to that were unavailable on the NTSB Web site.

The earlier crash occurred in June of 1998 when James Stevens was killed in a gyroplane accident. According to the crash report from the NTSB, Stevens' gyroplane suddenly plummeted to the ground from an altitude of about 500 feet.

The NTSB ruled the accident was caused by Stevens' failure to maintain control for an undetermined reason.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.


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