Preliminary NTSB Report Reveals Details of Fatal Lake County Plane Crash

Report states plane made several erratic moves before crashing into the side of a hill

By Justin Franz

The plane that crashed near Ronan last month, killing the pilot and injuring a passenger, made “several erratic maneuvers” before slamming into a hillside, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report issued this week.

On Dec. 16, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of a small plane crash at Round Butte. The pilot, 33-year-old Brett Thoft, of Alaska, was pronounced dead at the scene. The passenger, Tim Schauss, of Lake County, was airlifted to Kalispell Regional Medical Center and survived.

The following day, NTSB officials arrived on scene to investigate the crash. According to the preliminary report, issued on Jan. 6, Schauss had purchased the plane on Sept. 30, 2014 and was learning to become a pilot. Just before the crash on Dec. 16, Thoft, a Federal Aviation Administration certified mechanic, replaced the propeller on the Piper PA-18-150 Super Club plane.

At 4 p.m., the plane departed the Ronan Airport on a sight seeing flight. No flight plan had been filed with the airport authority. Fifteen minutes later the plane crashed into the side of a hill about five miles from the airport. The NTSB investigator talked to multiple witnesses who said the plane made “several erratic maneuvers” and was low to the ground before the crash. Witnesses also said the plane’s engine accelerated and revved up just before impact.

According to an NTSB spokesperson, the final report could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete.

Thoft, the pilot, owned Full Curl Aviation LLC, an air taxi service in Wasilla, Alaska that catered to hunters and rafters. According to news reports, he had attended high school and college in Montana and still had family in the area. In December, a friend told the Alaska Dispatch News that Thoft was “an exceptional pilot.”

“I spent a lot of time in the plane with him,” said Bob Summers of Deltana Outfitters. “He was exceptional in every sense of the word. He was a legend in the making.”

An online fundraiser is being held to support Thoft’s young family and so far more than $16,000 has been raised. For more information visit www.gofundme.com/Brett-Thoft-APHA.

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