Small town mourns loss of three killed in Thief River Falls plane crash
THIEF RIVER FALLS—With answers likely still weeks away in the Saturday plane crash that killed three men near Thief River Falls, the sport-vehicle shop where they were employed closed its doors Monday to give co-workers and friends a day to mourn.
"The company, the community and myself are devastated. There are no words that can explain the loss we've been through," said Dean Parker, owner of Mountain West Motors Inc. in Rawlins, Wyo. "We closed shop Monday just to let everybody grieve. We're an extremely small community and very tight-knit. The whole community is shocked."
Parker said "everybody knows everybody" in the small town of 4,500 people.
Moy Wing, 69, Brian Duke, 27, and Zach Ostertag, 26, all of Rawlins, died when their small Cessna 182 crashed in a stubble wheat field shortly before 8 a.m. Saturday.
Parker said the men were returning home after spending a week in Thief River Falls, where mechanics Duke and Ostertag completed training to work on Arctic Cat machines. Wing, Mountain West's 27-year finance manager, was their pilot.
Parker said Wing was an experienced pilot who had his license since the 1970s.
Pennington County Sheriff Ray Kuznia said deputies secured the scene overnight Saturday until a crew arrived Sunday. He said the National Transportation Safety Board hired the special team to package and remove evidence from the scene. The bodies of the victims were taken to the coroner's facility at the UND Pathology Department, Kuznia said.
Thief River Falls long has been the home of a production plant for Arctic Cat, which was purchased by Textron Specialized Vehicles in March.
A company spokesman said the employee assistance program would provide counseling or other services to employees seeking help to cope with the loss.
"Certainly, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims in this tragedy," Brandon Haddock said. "It was very difficult news for all of us to hear, and it's been very tough for us to absorb over the past few days."
Haddock said training and certification programs such as the one the Wyoming men completed occur often at the plant.
Back home in Rawlins, Parker said all memorials and funeral services are on hold for now.
"I know there's an FAA investigation going on, and they haven't told us anything yet. We're just waiting on information from Minnesota right now," he said. "The most important thing is to get the bodies back to their loved ones, and then we'll look toward the future."
A call to representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration was not returned by press time, but a spokeswoman said Saturday investigations can take up to several months or as long as a year.