Witnesses describe pilot’s takeoff struggle before fatal crash
Witnesses say the pilot who was killed in Wednesday night’s plane crash near Willow Lake may have overloaded his aircraft.
Troopers say Colt Richter, 24, was flying for Regal Air when he took off from Willow Lake on his way to FBI Lake with two passengers. He crashed just a minute later.
Phillip Stanger watched Richter make several attempts to take off and recorded the efforts on his cellphone.
The video shows Richter’s plane circling the lake three times.
“Full throttle, engine is getting hot,” Stanger described. “I knew he was overloaded, there was no way he was going to get off the water but he did.”
Stanger said the plane made it a little more than a mile before he heard the crash.
“He stalled, he went straight down," Stanger said. "There were no trees clipped, no power lines taken out. He just dropped like a rock."
Stanger and some friends got in his van and drove to the site to help. He said the two passengers, a woman and her young son, were in shock so he put them in the van until an ambulance arrived.
“Her legs were burned, arms were all messed up," Stanger said. "She was in a lot of pain."
Then they tried to look for the pilot but Stanger said the flames were so intense they weren’t able to get close to the aircraft.
“I was very surprised to see anyone alive," he said.
Stanger said he started flying in the 1970s and can tell when an aircraft is too heavy. The video shows Richter’s floats protruding from the water; Stanger said during takeoff the floats should be parallel with the water.
“You can see how the airplane was mushing through the water,” Stanger said. “He should have been off in 10 seconds but he was out here for at least ten minutes circling.”
Stanger believed the plane may have been hauling building materials, like bricks.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the crash.
NTSB investigator Noreen Price said weight and balance are an important part of every investigation, but said it’s too soon to tell whether those issues were a factor in this crash. She said witness statements and video will help investigators determine the takeoff weight.
Price said the maximum weight load for a de Havilland Beaver like the plane that crashed is typically 5,100 pounds. She doesn’t yet know, however, what Richter’s plane was carrying or how much it weighed.
“The plane really suffered catastrophic fire after impact and destroyed pretty much everything that was on board the airplane,” Price said.
NTSB investigators will remove the wreckage and take it to a secure location for a more in-depth examination. A preliminary report is usually issued about a week after a crash.
Regal Air declined to comment.
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