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AVIATION: Report: Weather, inexperience likely caused 2006 crash

The National Transportation Safety Board says that deteriorating weather and a pilot's lack of experience in such conditions probably caused an airplane crash that killed two UND aviation students more than a year ago near Crookston.

The National Transportation Safety Board says that deteriorating weather and a pilot's lack of experience in such conditions probably caused an airplane crash that killed two UND aviation students more than a year ago near Crookston.

The probable cause released just this week pieces together facts that were issued earlier this month in another NTSB report about the accident that killed pilot Jacob Rueth, 18, and passenger Jacob Sundblad, 19, the night of Dec. 1, 2006.

The report said the single-engine Cessna that Rueth was operating took off in deteriorating weather conditions, in which wind speeds were increasing and visibility was reduced by falling snow. The distance between ground and air ceiling was only about 200 feet, and visibility was about a mile, according to the NTSB.

At the time of the crash, about 6:30 p.m., the pilot was operating in "instrument meteorological conditions," meaning he had to rely on instruments for his position. But Rueth's pilot logbook showed he had no flight experience in actual instrument conditions, other than about 4½ hours in a simulator.

"It is likely that (Rueth's) decision to take off . . . was due to his lack of flying experience," the report said. "He became spatially disoriented and was unable to maintain control of the airplane."

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The report found no mechanical problems and said the students tested negative for drugs and alcohol.

Authorities said the plane crashed in a field only about a mile from the Crookston airport minutes after takeoff.

The two were enrolled in UND's aviation program, but they were not in a school plane or on a school-sanctioned flight the night of the crash. Friends said Rueth wanted to practice takeoffs and landings.

Rueth was from Orland Park, Ill., and Sundblad was from Annandale, Minn.

Lowell Miller, manager of the Crookston airport, was out of town when the crash took place, but he said the NTSB findings confirm what investigators told him shortly after the accident.

"That was what the they told me at the time, that it was weather related," Miller said.

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