Crookston crash claims UND student from Annandale

CROOKSTON - A single-engine Cessna carrying two UND students crashed into a field near Crookston late Friday night or early Saturday morning, killing both men.

CROOKSTON - A single-engine Cessna carrying two UND students crashed into a field near Crookston late Friday night or early Saturday morning, killing both men.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office identified the victims as Jacob Edward Rueth, 18, of Orland Park, Ill.; and Jacob Allen Sundblad, 19, of Annandale. Rueth was identified as the pilot.

Authorities located the 1971 airplane about 1.5 miles southwest of the Crookston Municipal Airport at 1:40 a.m. Saturday, about a half-hour after receiving notice of the downed aircraft from the Civil Air Patrol. Both men were found dead inside.

The Ramsey County medical examiner in St. Paul will perform autopsies on the victims.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are doing separate investigations on the crash. An official with Cessna also was investigating. Scot Thompson, an aviation safety inspector with the FAA, examined the crash site Saturday afternoon.


"The NTSB will be making a determination of probable cause," he said. He declined to comment on what he saw at the site, saying the incident still is under investigation.

The FAA's Minneapolis office were not returning calls to the Herald on Saturday. Thompson said preliminary investigation results could be available as soon as today by the NTSB.

Rueth and Sundblad were both freshmen at UND, and both were enrolled in its John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Science. Rueth was a pre-commercial aviation major, and Sundblad was a pre-flight education major, according to a news release from the university. The crashed flight was not part of an assignment or otherwise sanctioned by the school, according to UND spokesman Peter Johnson.

Timing unknown

The flight originated out of the Crookston airport at about 5:30 p.m. Friday according to UND student Brian Rusiniak, a friend of Rueth. Rueth was circling the airport to practice takeoffs and landings, Rusiniak said.

The time of the crash is unknown, however. Rueth planned to fly for only one hour, Rusiniak said.

Lowell Miller, manager of the airport and owner of Crookston Aviation Service, which owns the plane, said the accident occurred about "eight-ish" Friday night.

An administrator at UND's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Science said the delay between these guesses and the time the aircraft was found would be expected under these circumstances. An Emergency Locator Transmitter, which sends out a signal, automatically turned on when the plane crashed into the ground. This signal can be hard to find, however.


"It may have taken some time to respond to that," said Dana Siewert, director of aviation safety at the school. "Somebody would have to be looking for that frequency, and they would need the gear to hear that frequency."

Siewert described the signal as an "aviation channel," adding that it would not alert law enforcement authorities automatically. The Civil Air Patrol, which alerted the Polk County Sheriff's Office of the crash, is a common monitor of the signal. Siewert said military satellites also are able to detect the signal.

Another factor that could have led to delay was the proximity of the crash to the airport. The ELTs sometimes malfunction and turn on when the plane is parked, Siewert said.

"They might have thought it just wasn't working right, but I'm not sure that happened here," he said.

Weather effect

Rusiniak and Miller said the weather during the flight was bad, a factor that may have contributed to the crash.

"On and off, it was bad," Miller said.

The National Weather Service's Grand Forks office recorded some strong winds and light snow throughout Friday evening. A "light snow" passed through about 5 p.m., according to meteoroligist Nancy Godon. Visibility was reduced to one mile at 7:30 p.m., and a steady northwest wind of 10 to 15 mph increased to 15 to 25 mph at 8 p.m.


Godon said the snow ended at about 8 p.m., and wind speeds also diminished later in the evening.

Rusiniak said Rueth had a lot of experience with airplanes and was a good pilot.

"He knew his stuff, that's for sure," Rusiniak said.

Other accidents

Miller said the crash was the first in Crookston since 1994, when a pilot flying a seaplane with jammed landing gear landed at Crookston's grass landing strip to reduce aircraft damage.

In February 1989, a twin-engine air ambulance made a forced landing in a field north of Crookston when the pilot experienced mechanical problems just west of the airport. There were no injuries to any of the four on board, including a patient being transported from Chicago to Hallock, Minn.

The Cessna 421 plane, which sustained several thousand dollars of damage, skidded about 1,000 feet in deep snow before coming to a halt about a mile west of the Crookston airport. Its landing gear was up at the time of impact.

Staff writer Kevin Fee contributed to this report.

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