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Famed N.D. pilot Bob Odegaard killed during practice for Valley City air show

Planes sit on the Tarmac after a reported airplane crash Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, at the Barnes County Municipal Airport in Valley City, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 4
The remains of airplane crash are visible Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, from the terminal of the Barnes County Municipal Airport in Valley City, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 4
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VALLEY CITY, N.D. - Famed North Dakota pilot Bob Odegaard was killed Friday night during a practice run for an air show here.

Odegaard, 66, of Kindred, was renowned for both his skills in the cockpit and for restoring airplanes, and he was an instrumental part of getting the Fargo AirSho - and later the Fargo Air Museum - off the ground.

"I'm kind of stung by it. It's a shock," said Dick Walstad, co-chairman of the Fargo air show. "He's one of those guys where if it had wings, he could fly it."

Sgt. Troy Hischer of the North Dakota Highway Patrol said the crash, which happened at the Barnes County Municipal Airport about 5:55 p.m., reportedly happened while Odegaard was attempting a barrel roll while practicing for the Valley City show that was set for today but canceled after the fatal crash.

Hischer said authorities aren't yet sure if the crash was caused by mechanical or human error.

"Something went terribly wrong and he crashed," the trooper said.

Kris Youle of Sanborn works near the airport and was on break watching the planes practice when the crash happened.

Youle said the plane was doing loops when it slammed into the ground.

"He just didn't pull up. He went right into the ground," she said.

Youle said she didn't notice any smoke or hear any explosions coming from the airplane before the crash.

Larry Welken, vice chairman of the airport's board of directors, was on the field helping fuel planes when the crash happened.

"It looked like he was possibly trying to get out of the plane, like he knew something was wrong," said Welken, a pilot for 35 years. "He just plowed into the ground."

Welken said he didn't notice any explosions, either, and the only fire was a small one on the ground that was probably ignited by fuel. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating, he said.

Welken said a test-run crash is "super uncommon."

"You couldn't find a pilot with more experience anywhere. He's known all over the country," he said.

Walstad said he was told Odegaard was flying a rebuilt Super Corsair, a rare and superpower WWII-era airplane designed to counter kamikaze attacks.

There were less than 20 ever built, and the only two operating models still in existence were both rebuilt by Odegaard within the last year or so, Walstad said.

"He literally took them from junkyards," he said.

Walstad said the single-seat Super Corsair was a difficult plane to fly, but he also said Odegaard was "an accomplished, expert pilot."

Odegaard's longtime plane-building partner was Gerald Beck, a Wahpeton man who was killed at an air show in Oshkosh, Wis., in 2007. Odegaard owned a company that specialized in wing building, while Beck's specialized in fuselages.

Beck was killed in a collision with Odegaard's son, Casey, as they both flew P-51 Mustangs, another single-seat fighter used in WW II and the aircraft with which Odegaard is most closely associated.

"That's where he got initiated in aircraft restoration," Walstad said. "He was world renowned, I mean world renowned."

Walstad said Odegaard - along with Beck, himself and Darrol Schroeder - was one of the four individuals who founded the Fargo Air Museum, helped along by proceeds from the Fargo AirSho, where Odegaard was a mainstay ever since the first year in 1989.

"He was just an absolute sweetheart," Walstad said. "It's a huge loss."