Before Ed and Jann Northway's plane crashed into the ground, taking the Nisswa couple's lives, the aircraft broke apart while in flight, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Ed Northway, 57, a co-founder of Nor-son Inc. in Baxter and an experienced pilot, and his wife, Jann, 54, were flying home after visiting their daughter in Washington, D.C.
They were headed from Wheeling, Ill., to Pine River when their Cessna 210 crashed about 11:25 a.m. Oct. 26 in a heavily wooded area in Waushara County, about 70 miles north of Madison, Wis. The Northways were pronounced dead at the scene.
The Northways crashed about 12 feet from an 18-acre lake, said Scott Schultz, who owns the property. Though he didn't witness the crash, Schultz said, based on the wreckage on his property, the plane appeared to come straight down out of the sky and embed itself about three feet into the mud.
"It didn't come down in the rest of the debris area. There's no trees broke whatsoever," Schultz said. The NTSB reported a wreckage path of 2.4 miles.
The cause of the crash is still being investigated, said Ed Malinowski, NTSB investigator in charge of the Northway plane crash, and could take six months to a year to complete.
"Our main job right now is to look at three possible things: the aircraft, the pilot and the weather," Malinowski said Thursday from his Chicago office. "We're still reviewing all of those things."
In addition, Malinowski said his office is waiting for autopsy and toxicology results before he produces his factual report on the crash.
"These things take awhile to come back to us," he said.
Two witnesses reported to the Waushara County Sheriff's Department that they observed the Northway plane while they were planting trees on their property, the NTSB preliminary report said. The witnesses told the sheriff's office they heard thunder or jets flying, then a "high winding noise from (the) plane engine" directly above them and then a loud bang. The witnesses reported seeing a plane at about 1,500 to 2,000 feet above the ground, spinning straight down without its wings with something hanging from its tail section.
The NTSB preliminary report cited Federal Aviation Administration data that showed the pilot was in contact with an air traffic controller before crashing. Ed Northway advised the air traffic controller that his plane was losing its gyros and needed to go to a lower altitude. Northway then reported that the plane was OK but he had a problem "a minute ago." Northway then reported he entered clouds. The pilot's last transmission was that it was going into a spin. Radar contact was lost at that time.
Schultz said he plans on building a small memorial to the Northways at the crash site and renaming the 18-acre lake next to which the Northways crashed as Northway Lake. He said he also has offered Northway family members the opportunity to build their own memorial at the site.
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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