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Last flight kills Bemidji man, injures one

David Nelson, left, an investigator with the Federal Aviation Administration, reviews an ultralight plane crash with the aid of Beltrami County Deputy Jeff Roberts. The crash, reported at 7:17 p.m. Monday at Moberg Seaplane Air Base, killed pilot Jay Russell Davis, 49, of Bemidji. A passenger, 56-year-old Paul Jerome Wannarka of Bemidji, was airlifted to Fargo. MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER

BEMIDJI –It’s not clear what went wrong in Bemidji resident Jay Russell Davis’s last flight.

Davis, a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, was taking some people for rides in his ultralight aircraft Monday evening at the Moberg Seaplane Air Base. He was there along with a few other association members cleaning up after their fly-in earlier in the month.

Davis, 49, piloted at least three uneventful flights Monday, but was killed after the craft crashed on the grass strip.

“For whatever reason on that last ride something went wrong,” said Brian Shaw, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s local chapter.

Shaw, who said he knew Davis for about three years, described him as a guy who did it all, including piloting and riding motorcycles. He said Davis had plenty of experience in the air.

“He was an awesome guy,” Shaw said. “I’ve never seen the guy mad.” 

The passenger, Paul Jerome Wannarka, was airlifted to a Fargo, N.D. hospital. Shaw said Wannarka has a broken leg but should make a full recovery.

The Federal Aviation Administration is assisting in the crash investigation, according to a news release from the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office.

The crash was reported at 7:17 p.m. at the airstrip, which is west of Bemidji off of 15th Street Northwest in Grant Valley Township. 

In the news release, Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said witnesses reported the plane was banking through a turn – apparently preparing to land at the grass strip – when the wing struck the ground causing the plane to crash.

The aircraft is described as a “tricycle” style plane with seating for the pilot and one passenger position behind the pilot.

The wreckage was still at the strip Tuesday morning, surrounded by yellow police tape. One of the wheels appeared to have broken off and one of the wings was torn.

Davis and Wannarka were strapped into their seats at the time of the crash.

“He had taken up several people, he was just returning” from a flight, Hodapp said Tuesday.

Officials from the Bemidji Police Department, Minnesota State Patrol, Bemidji Fire Department, and Beltrami County First Responders also responded to the crash.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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