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Sauk Centre pilot killed in plane crash in Stearns County

January 24, 2018 GMT

Authorities searching for a missing plane Wednesday in central Minnesota found the wreckage of a crash that killed a 50-year-old pilot.

It’s the first fatal plane crash in Minnesota in 2018 and the sixth in the U.S. this year.

The pilot, identified as Matthew Skwira, of Rice, Minn., left Sauk Centre Airport at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday to practice takeoffs and landings, authorities said, but he didn’t return by 9:30 p.m., his car was still at the airport and he couldn’t be reached.

The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office and Sauk Centre Police started a search and sent an alert to residents in the community to look for the missing plane.

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Difficult weather conditions Tuesday night made it impossible to do aerial searches, but Sauk Centre firefighters boarded ATVs on Tuesday night and started scanning the fields around the airport until 1 a.m. Wednesday, Fire Chief Steve Moritz said.

They restarted the search after 8 a.m. and within minutes, firefighters on ATVs found the damaged plane in an open farm field about 6 miles from the Sauk Centre Airport.

Moritz said the pilot had flown to Princeton, Minn., and authorities were given some information based off cellphone pings of where the crash may have happened. The pilot was dead when authorities arrived.

Skwira registered the W-10 Tailwind, a single engine experimental aircraft, in July 2017 and according to public records, was first listed as a student pilot in 2006. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the crash.

Seven people died in plane crashes in Minnesota in 2017, the most in four years. Four people died in plane crashes in Minnesota in 2016, five in 2015, six in 2014 and eight in 2013, according to NTSB data.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141