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Investigation Underway Into Fatal Plane Crash

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MONROE (WWJ) – Federal investigators are looking into the crash of a small airplane that killed three people in Monroe County. 

The deadly crash happened Tuesday evening at Munson Park, near Monroe Custer Airport. The plane was returning from Pennsylvania to Monroe.

Mitchell Gallo, air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said Wednesday morning at first glance you can’t really get a sense of what would be out of the ordinary with the plane.

Gallo says the pilot, Rick Howell, did make radio contact at Custer Airport for someone to reach him, but they were not able to do so.  The pilot made no mention of any mechanical trouble, according to Gallo.

Witnesses said the plane was flying erratically before it went down in the park and burst into flames. One witness said the plane was flying low with its wing pointed to the ground, as if it were doing a stunt. Other witnesses said there was nothing that indicated the plane was having mechanical trouble.

Elizabeth Cory, spokeswoman for the FAA, said an investigation is underway but results may take some time to surface.

“The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating. The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation. These investigations typically take several months to a year or more before they are completed,” Cory said.

The airplane that crashed was a six-seater Piper Model PA 46-350P. By flight standards, the plane was fairly new. It was manufactured in 2006 and is registered to Triple F Aviation, LLC, on Dixie Highway in Monroe.

The pilot, and owner of the plane, was identified as Rick Howell of LaSalle.  Toledo-based Conforming Matrix Corp. says its owner Rick Howell was returning from a business trip in Pennsylvania with two employees and that all three were killed.
  
The company says the two other victims are Nathan Brahier of Fremont and Jeremy Tate of Oregon, a Toledo suburb.  The company’s website says Tate was a sales specialist.  They were headed home to Monroe from a business trip in Pennsylvania.

Residents who live near Munson Park are calling the pilot a hero, saying Howell was able to avoid the tennis courts, houses in the nearby neighborhood and the playscape, which was full of children.

© 2011 WWJ Radio, All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to his report.

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