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Report: Engine 'operated normally' in fatal De Smet plane crash

DE SMET -- The passenger in a fatal June 2016 plane crash near De Smet said the engine "operated normally" until impact with Lake Thompson, but the pilot told him it stalled mid air.

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Responders work the scene of a 2016 plane crash at Lake Thompson, which is located in Kingsbury County. (Daily Republic file photo)

DE SMET - The passenger in a fatal June 2016 plane crash near De Smet said the engine "operated normally" until impact with Lake Thompson, but the pilot told him it stalled mid air.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) final accident report released this week, passenger and Aurora resident Bruce Bortnem told authorities the Kitfox IV airplane's engine had normal functionality when it crashed, with the cause of the crash defined as a loss of control in flight. The crash killed 59-year-old pilot Randall Telkamp, of Brookings, who died from "asphyxia due to drowning" in the submerged plane.

The Federal Aviation Administration says loss of control is the top cause of fatal aviation crashes, and occur when a "flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and may quickly develop into a stall or spin." Common causes include poor judgement, failure to recognize a stall and execute corrective action, failure to maintain airspeed or use of prescription or illegal drugs. Telkamp tested negative for drug use, according to the final report.

The crash occurred while Telkamp and Bortnem were assisting Douglas Kahler and Jeff Hallin, joined by his 12-year-old step-son, search for a wrecked boat in the 12,455-acre lake. And according to Hallin's statement released this week, the three men narrowly avoided being struck by the crashing aircraft.

"Suddenly I heard the planes (sic) RPM go up and looked over my shoulder in time to see the plane nosedive into the water about 150 yards away from us," Hallin wrote.

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Kahler concurred, stating the aircraft nosed into the water and flipped on its top, submerging instantly.

Shortly after the crash, Kahler pulled Bortnem out of the water.

"I just started the boat and gunned it towards the wreck was (sic) at the wreck site in under one minute," Kahler wrote. "By the time I was three quarters the way there Bruce popped out of the wreckage and I put Bruce from water immediately."

Hallin dove underwater using dive gear to search for the wreckage multiple times, ultimately finding Telkamp "either still strapped in or entangled in debri(s)." Hallin attempted to remove Telkamp, but was unable.

The incident drew several law enforcement agencies and first responders to the lake, but the lake remained open to boaters throughout the day. Shortly after the crash, Bortnem was said to be in "fair condition."

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