Likely cause of plane crash released

GLENWOOD -- The National Transportation Safety Board has released the probable cause for a plane crash that killed two last December outside of Glenwood.

GLENWOOD -- The National Transportation Safety Board has released the probable cause for a plane crash that killed two last December outside of Glenwood.

Weather was the biggest factor leading to the accident, but the report says that pilot should have checked conditions before making the Dec. 9, 2004 trip.

Pilot Gerhard "Gary" Erich Schmidt, 65, of Glenwood and his passenger Richard Mark Justice, 51, of Alexandria, were killed in the crash. They were flying Schmidt's Piper PA 32 plane.

They were returning from Fort Myers, Fla, where they'd been working on Schmidt's hurricane-damaged home.

Schmidt and Justice had taken off from the Fort Myers Airport around 6:15 a.m. on Dec. 9. They then went to the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport and onto the Mount Vernon Airport in Illinois. They departed from there to Glenwood about 1:40 p.m.


As they approached the Glenwood Airport, just after 5 p.m., it became clear that conditions were poor.

At about 11 miles out, Schmidt followed flight plans as he descended toward the airport, going from 10,000 feet above sea level, to 6,000. Air traffic control authorized him to go down to 4,000 feet at his discretion, however, he requested to remain at 6,000 feet in order to stay "out of the clouds here [until] the last minute [due to] possible icing."

Schmidt then further requested to climb to 7,000 feet after he encountered light rime and mixed icing conditions.

According to Steve Wright, the Willmar Municipal Airport manager, rime ice can cake onto a plane's wings and body like ice build up on freezer coils. Rime buildup can change aerodynamics and weights which can cause a plane to stall out and become uncontrollable.

His approach toward the runway was steep. As Schmidt approached the airport, he descended quickly through the clouds; however, the cloud ceiling was extremely low to the ground, 200 feet above ground level.

Wright says the low ceiling would have meant it would have been difficult to see the runway.

He was coming in toward the airport from the southeast.

Radar and other devices were not able to track what happened to the plane after Schmidt dropped below 4,000 feet. However, the report says that it appears when he missed his approach; he turned around for another approach and crashed into a farm site about one mile northeast of the airport.


Schmidt and Justice ended up crashing into a farm site about a mile northeast of the airport.

The crash report says that two major occurrences were to blame of the incident. First and foremost was the weather.

Schmidt had not checked weather conditions before making his flight.

The conditions were "below approach and landing minimums" and there were icing conditions, the report says. Air Traffic controllers did not issue any in flight weather advisories, the report says.

Wright said he remembers the weather conditions from that day. He said there were low clouds, it was snowy and misty.

"It was a cruddy day," he said. "It was a clouds, wet snow kind of day."

He said flying conditions were a lot like the day the Sen. Paul Wellstone's plane crashed.

Wright said that weather conditions can make flying very unsafe, and it is important to make good decisions in bad weather.


"To be safe you really have to be willing to make the no go decision," Wright said regarding weather conditions. However, he said, sometimes pressures to do business, to get clientele to a meeting on time or to get home can make pilots fly in poor weather.

"It's unfortunate," he said. He said Schmidt was well known and well liked in the area. Schmidt had run Tanis Aircraft Services in Glenwood.

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