NTSB says pilot became disoriented, lost control before Victoria plane crash that killed 3

Federal investigators say the pilot of a small airplane that crashed in Carver County in 2021, killing three, likely was disoriented and lost control of the aircraft.

In its final investigative report, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says the plane started making sharp movements about 10 miles from Flying Cloud Airport, where it was headed, likely due to the pilot’s spatial disorientation. Those movements caused the plane to exceed its maximum positive load factor, which led the wings to break and fold upward.

The crash happened at around 5:40 p.m. on Aug. 7, 2021, near Highway 5 and Victoria Drive in Victoria.

The three killed in the crash were previously identified as Dr. James Edney, who owned the plane, Dr. Sara Mertes and her husband, Jake Mertes. They’d taken off from Alexandria about 45 minutes earlier.

In its preliminary report, the NTSB noted that the pilot didn’t ever make a distress call but did acknowledge a safety alert transmitted by a Flying Cloud tower controller shortly before the crash. However, after acknowledging the alert, the plane abruptly turned left and descended rapidly.

A pilot who heard the accident pilot’s communications told investigators the pilot sounded “stressed” and “confused” when talking to the controller.

The agency says in its final report that the pilot could’ve been trying to recover from flying too low but the spiral descent and attempted recovery overstressed the plane, causing the wings to break.

The final report also notes that the pilot had Benadryl in his system, although it wasn’t possible to determine how much. That can lead to slowed reaction times, although investigators couldn’t be sure what role that played in the crash without knowing how much was in his system. The clouds that day also could’ve played a role in the pilot’s disorientation, the report states.