FAA begins crash investigation

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
FAA investigators, right, and Fort Dodge Airport officials inspect a light aircraft Wednesday morning after it made an emergency landing Tuesday. The damaged front gear can be seen. More information about the crash will be available after the FAA completes its investigation, which could take several months.

Federal Aviation Administration officials were on scene Wednesday morning to investigate a plane that went down in a field just north of the Fort Dodge Regional Airport Tuesday afternoon.

It could be several months before more information is released about the crash, officials from the FAA’s Des Moines office said.

Fort Dodge Director of Aviation Rhonda Chambers didn’t have any further details. She said an emergency landing like this is extremely rare.

“We haven’t had this type of incident since I’ve been here,” said Chambers, who started in 1997.

The only sort of incident Chambers recalled was when a Delta jet partially slid off the taxiway in January 2012.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
FAA investigators examine a small plane in a field about 1/3 of a mile from the Fort Dodge Regional Airport. The pilot was unhurt after making an emergency landing Tuesday.

Most of the wheels remained on the pavement, she said.

“The nose just slid off the pavement,” she said. “We had just had some snow and ice.”

On Wednesday the plane, which ended up nose-down in the field near 160th Street and National Avenue, had been flipped over onto its top after storms rolled through the area over night.

Webster County sheriff’s reserve deputies stayed up through the night and the storms, keeping an eye on the plane, which landed on private property in a bean field. It probably won’t be removed for several days until the field can dry out.

The aircraft was a homebuilt Zenith 601 XL-B, the sheriff’s department said. Zenith Aircraft’s website says the plane weighs between 700 and 800 pounds.

The pilot, Ralph Sonnicksen, 76, of Fort Dodge, crawled out of a window on the plane shortly after the crash.

He’d experienced engine trouble shortly after taking off, and started to return to the airport, according ot the Sheriff’s Department. When he saw another aircraft in the area, he planned to land in the field instead to not place anyone else in danger.

The crash happened at about 3:18 p.m. Tuesday.

Homebuilt planes are quite common in the area.

“It’s not uncommon at all,” Chambers said. “He did an excellent job as far as landing that aircraft in a field, and we are very thankful and grateful that Ralph is talking to us today.”

Area fire departments and emergency responders held a drill on May 23, to simulate how they would respond to a larger aircraft crash.