Load May Have Played A Role In Butte Crash

BUTTE, MT. – Investigators are now saying that a Pilatus PC-12 aircraft that crashed near Butte this weekend, killing 14 people from three families, may have been overloaded.

Fresh crosses are lined up outside Holy Cross Cemetery, one for each of the 14 victims who were killed in the plane crash this weekend. Among those aboard the aircraft:

Erin and Amy Jacobson of St. Helena, Calif., and their children, 4-year-old Taylor; 3-year-old Ava, and 1-year-old Jude Michael and Vanessa Pullen of Lodi, Calif., and their children, 9-year-old Sydney and 7-year-old Christopher Brent and Kristen Ching of Durham, Calif., and their children, 5-year-old Heyley and 4-year-old Caleb; Pilot Buddy Summerfield, a former Air Force pilot with thousands of flight hours piloting civilian aircraft.

An eyewitness who ran to the crash site moments after the plane crash says it’s the memory of the kids’ ski equipment and backpacks strewn all over the graveyard that he will never forget.

Ruby and Dan Ehmen witnessed the crash from their home a few hundred yards from Holy Cross Cemetery.

“My husband said, Oh My God that plane just crashed,” Ruby said.

“Big ball of fire, burning pieces of airplane everywhere,” Dan recollected the crash scene.

Dan says he didn’t think twice before driving to the crash site to help any survivors but he quickly learned there was nothing he could do.

“Indescribable feeling looking at what was there and I could do nothing about it,” he said.

Among the victims on board were seven children about the same age as his.

“There were little tiny kids on that plane, kids just like my kids on the ground, its pretty hard to deal with,” Dan said.

Early Monday the National Transportation Safety Board said they had very few clues as to what caused the plane crash. They say pilot Buddy Summerfield changed flight plans mid-flight to land in Butte instead of Bozeman, but he never made a distress call or gave a reason for the diversion. 

Witnesses say the plane was about 300 feet in the air when it nosed over into the ground.

Steve Guidoni and his wife Martha were also among the first people to pull up to the burning plane after it crashed Sunday, his wife having taken the first image of the fireball as the plane burned after hitting the grounds of Holy Cross Cemetery.

“I seen the plane come over this way and just dive into the trees,” Steve said. “I just started looking around for what I thought could be a miracle and I could save someone but there wasn’t nothing could be done.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it before and I never want to again,” Steve’s wife Martha added.

The aircraft involved in the crash Sunday, the Pilatus PC-12, is considered a very safe and sturdy aircraft and is a single engine turboprop plane that can carry up to nine passengers almost halfway across the country without refueling.

Even though the plane’s been flying since 1994 the PC-12 has averaged less than one crash per year.

“We have no reason to believe there are safety issues with this aircraft. Over the years there have been 14 accidents that we have looked at,” NTSB chairman Mark Rosenker said.

National Transportation Safety officials have said the aircraft that crashed in Butte was carrying three more passengers than the 11 it’s certified for but still don’t know if its overweight.

Aviation experts however doubt being overweight was the cause of the crash. If the Pilatus was overloaded the pilot would have likely had more problems on takeoff. Investigators have also ruled out weather saying visibility and temperature were not factors.

The NTSB says the Pilatus PC-12 didn’t have a flight data recorder, which complicates their efforts to pinpoint the cause of the crash. Instead they’ll need to rely on eyewitness accounts like those of the Guidonis and the Ehmens to try and find the cause of the crash.

“I haven’t been able to sleep yet,” Steve said. “I’ve been crying off and on and praying off and on that’s what I’ve been doing.”