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Flight that crashed in South Dakota, killing 9 family members, had clearance to fly despite weather, officials say

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4 days ago Makenzie Huber and Danielle Ferguson, Sioux Falls Argus Leader
a man that is standing in the snow: An NTSB air safety investigator examines the wreckage of the Pilatus PC-12 that crashed on Nov. 30, 2019,  shortly after departure from Chamberlain Municipal Airport. Nine people died. © National Transportation Safety Board An NTSB air safety investigator examines the wreckage of the Pilatus PC-12 that crashed on Nov. 30, 2019, shortly after departure from Chamberlain Municipal Airport. Nine people died.

CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. – The airplane carrying 12 Idaho family members on an annual South Dakota hunting trip that crashed and killed nine received clearance to fly despite poor weather, federal safety officials said Monday.

The Pilatus PC-12 made it only a mile before crashing Saturday in a field south of Chamberlain shortly after takeoff, killing the nine family members and injuring three others, authorities say.

National Transportation Safety Board officials arrived in Chamberlain on Monday afternoon and planned to document information at the crash site over the next three to five days, said Paul Knudson with the NTSB. A preliminary report will be released in a few weeks while the full investigation will take between 12 and 24 months, he said.

"There's a lot of stuff that needs to be dug into," Knudson said.

Piles of drifted snow surrounded the Chamberlain Municipal Airport on Monday – evidence of the blizzard that swept through western and central South Dakota over the weekend.

The pilot, who has not been identified, filed an instrument flight rules plan with the FAA and received a clearance to fly from Chamberlain to Idaho Falls around 12:30 p.m. Saturday, according to a press release from the NTSB. The FAA issued an alert for a missing airplane when the pilot didn't activate the flight plan after departure.

More on the crash: Prominent Idaho executives, kids among 9 killed in South Dakota plane crash

The airplane was equipped with an automated dependent surveillance broadcast system, which records parameters that will help investigators look at the flight track, altitude and speed during takeoff and the plane's flight, according to the news release.

Though the cause of the crash hasn't been released, Chamberlain and central south-central South Dakota were under a winter storm warning at the time.

a close up of a map: SOURCE USAID Created with Datawrapper; OpenStreetMap © AP SOURCE USAID Created with Datawrapper; OpenStreetMap

Along with visibility at a half a mile and light winds reported at the airport at 12:30 p.m., there was also low-level wind shear and clear air turbulence conditions with overcast skies, according to the NTSB news release. The base of the cloud layer was 500 feet above the ground, according to the news release. 

The Chamberlain airport was not closed Saturday afternoon, but two notices were issued that there was ice and snow on the runway, said Chamberlain City Engineer Greg Powell. The airport does not have deicing equipment, he said.

Because there is no air traffic tower at the Chamberlain airport, Powell said he does not know whether the pilot tried to communicate distress before the crash.

Three of the men who died in the crash were Kirk Hansen and James Hansen Jr. – founders of the nutritional supplement company, Kyani Inc. – and their father, James Hansen Sr., according to a letter released from Kyani’s president, Travis Garza.

All three were prominent businessmen in the Idaho Falls area and executives with Conrad & Bischoff, Kyani and KJ’s Super Stores.

Garza also said the crash killed Kirk Hansen's two children, Stockton and Logan, as well as two of Kirk’s sons-in-law, Kyle Naylor and Tyson Dennert. James Hansen Jr.'s son, Jake, and grandson Houston also died in the crash.

The three victims who survived the crash were Josh Hansen, Kirk Hansen's son; Matt Hansen, Jim Hansen Jr.'s son; and Thomas Long, Jim Hansen Jr.'s son-in-law, according to Garza. 

They were in stable condition Monday at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, the Associated Press reported. 

The family had arrived in Chamberlain on Friday around 9:30 a.m. for the hunting trip, according to the NTSB press release. Shortly after arrival, the pilot purchased 150 gallons of Jet A fuel from an automated fuel pump.

The Hansen’s regularly stayed at the Thunderstik Lodge in Chamberlain for their annual hunting trip, said Carey Story, the managing partner of the lodge.

"My family, the Thunderstik family, is deeply affected by this tragedy," Story said. "They're a wonderful family. They were here for all the reasons you hope people come to South Dakota to hunt. They were sharing the outdoors with their family and were just fabulous people – four generations deep."

Although a pilot has not been identified, Kirk Hansen was a certified private pilot, according to the FAA. The airplane was registered to Conrad and Bischoff Inc. of Idaho Falls.

According to the Pilatus website, the PC-12 can be flown by one pilot and carry up to 10 passengers.

The plane's flight log shows frequent flights in the past month, including trips to Everett, Washington; Las Vegas; and Nampa, Idaho, according to FlightAware.

“The legacy of Jim Hansen, Kirk Hansen and their father, Jim Hansen Sr., will be preserved and will flourish through their families and established Business Partners today, tomorrow and into the future,” the Hansen family said in a statement.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Flight that crashed in South Dakota, killing 9 family members, had clearance to fly despite weather, officials say

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