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Loss of flight control cited in Kerkhoven pilot's fatal crash

The scene where a plane piloted by Loren Larson, 55, of Kerkhoven, crashed July 28, 2016, in a cornfield northeast of the La Crosse, Wisconsin, airport. Larson was killed in the crash. Submitted photo1 / 3
Loren Larson, who died in a crash July 28, 2016, stands by the Mooney aircraft he flew in an undated photograph from his Facebook page. Submitted photo2 / 3
The scene where a plane piloted by Loren Larson, 55, of Kerkhoven, crashed July 28, 2016, in a cornfield northeast of the La Crosse, Wisconsin, airport. Larson was killed in the crash. Submitted photo3 / 3

KERKHOVEN, Minn. — The propeller was spinning and the plane's engine was running when an experienced pilot from Kerkhoven crashed his single-engine aircraft on July 28, 2016, into a cornfield northeast of the La Crosse, Wisconsin, airport.

That's based on the analysis of wreckage found at the crash site where pilot Loren Larson, 55, of Kerkhoven, died, according to the final factual report on the accident by the National Transportation Safety Board.

It determined that "loss of control in flight'' was the defining event that caused the crash. The NTSB released its report Tuesday, Jan. 30, after a nearly 18-month investigation.

Family members have been "watching and waiting'' for the report, Lynn Larson, brother of the victim, told the Forum News Service. The determination of "loss of control in flight'' left him perplexed. His brother had over 20 years of experience as a pilot, he said.

Loren Larson had departed solo from the Willmar Municipal Airport in a rented Mooney airplane at 10:24 a.m. He was planning to land in La Crosse to pick up a friend. They were to fly to Appleton, Wisconsin, to buy tickets and then fly to the Oshkosh air show.

Due to cloud cover, Larson was going to make an instrument approach at the La Crosse airport. Instead, his plane came down in a cornfield at 11:38 a.m., about 5.6 miles northeast of the runway at the La Crosse Airport.

A witness told investigators that the weather was "bad,'' according to the accident report. It was misting at the time and clouds were low.

The witness heard the plane's engine running, but could not tell where the sound was coming from. "The engine then quit." After the airplane's engine quit, three to four minutes elapsed and then he heard a boom,'' stated the report.

Larson made radio contact with the La Crosse Regional Airport and requested vector coordinates to make an instrument approach.

A transcript of the radio transmissions between the pilot and controllers indicates that an air traffic controller in La Crosse instructed Larson to maintain his altitude at 4,000 feet. He provided Larson with the radio frequency to the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center. The Minneapolis Center had the plane on radar and was to provide the vector coordinates to Larson for the approach to Runway 18 at La Crosse.

Larson confirmed the radio frequency for contacting Minneapolis with the La Crosse Airport controller. He did not repeat the controller's order to maintain a 4,000-foot altitude.

Larson's radio transmission confirming the radio frequency was recorded moments before the crash is believed to have occurred.

Radio transmissions continued between the La Crosse and Minneapolis controllers, who were not aware of the crash until an emergency locator signal was received.

The Minneapolis Center told La Crosse that it had cleared Larson for the approach, but had not heard back from him. " ... We asked him if he had any issues. He said no. So I was just wondering if he had said anything to you about having any issues,'' stated the Minneapolis controller to La Crosse.

Repeated attempts by the La Crosse controller to contact Larson following this exchange did not produce a response.

The accident report indicated Larson had training for making an instrument approach, but it was outdated. The report stated that he should have completed a proficiency check within the previous six months of the flight, but had not.

An 800-foot-long wreckage path, running north and south, was found at the accident site. At the northern edge of the wreckage path, an area of corn stalks — measuring about 35 feet long and 6 to 10 feet wide — was cut an an angle of about 45 degrees, sloping to the east.

There was no evidence of soot or fire on the airframe, engine or terrain. The left and right wings were located away from the plane's body. The wing flaps were in the 0-degree position.

Damage to the propellers was consistent with rotation and engine power at impact, the report stated. The engine did not exhibit any mechanical anomalies that would have precluded engine operation, according to the report.

The plane's instrument panel was located about 37 feet from the fuselage. The altitude indicator was broken apart and its gyro was not found.

An autopsy was not performed and no toxicology samples were available for testing. Larson's most recent aviation medical exam had found no health concerns.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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