- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2020

MANDAN, N.D. (AP) - A preliminary report from federal officials investigating a fatal plane crash in Mandan says a witness noticed that before takeoff a seat belt was securing the aircraft’s rear control stick.

It’s a practice not uncommon in small planes that don’t have locks to hold the flight controls in place. But an aviation expert tell the Bismarck Tribune it would be problematic if the pilot failed to address it before takeoff.

The National Transportation Safety Board does not speculate on whether that might have contributed to the June 13 crash that killed Joel Pfliger, 57, a Stanton-area farmer and former gas plant engineer.

He was the only one on board when the homebuilt plane crashed and burned shortly after takeoff at the municipal airport.

The preliminary report states that “a witness observed the airplane on the ramp prior to the flight and advised the pilot that the rear seat belt was securing the rear control stick. The pilot subsequently departed in the airplane … and the airplane subsequently had a steep climb. The airplane descended, impacted terrain, and a ground fire occurred.”

University of North Dakota professor and Aviation Department Chairman Brett Venhuizen said if the seat belt was used as a control lock it must be removed or released prior to flight.

The NTSB report does not say whether Pfliger did so.

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