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Sherri Richards, Published November 03 2010

West Fargo plane crash victim was retired military

The West Fargo man who died in a plane crash in a Wisconsin cornfield Monday was a retired U.S. Army helicopter pilot who spent the past three and a half years working as a pilot in Iraq, his son said.

Thomas P. Mitchell, 51, was flying an experimental, amateur-built aircraft he had recently purchased when, according to witness reports, a wing began to break up and come apart. As the plane began to lose altitude, a second wing broke off and the aircraft crashed, a Sauk County Sheriff’s report said.

Mitchell was pronounced dead at the scene by the Sauk County (Wis.) Coroner. He was the only person in the plane.

His son, Brent Mitchell, said Tuesday that Thomas Mitchell grew up in Baudette, Minn., and the family has lived in West Fargo since 1997.

Thomas Mitchell recently had purchased the 2004 aircraft and drove to Wisconsin with his wife, Cathy, to fly it to the Hawley, Minn., airport and hangar it there for the winter, Brent Mitchell said.

Thomas Mitchell had a certification to fly it solo but needed another certification to fly with a passenger, Brent Mitchell said. He was flying to Merrill, Wis., to do that, he said. The sheriff’s report said the plane took off from Sauk Prairie Airport, near Prairie Du Sac. Cathy Mitchell was driving home.

“All we really know as far as what happened from there is what the witnesses said,” Brent Mitchell said.

Bill Prokopyk, a spokesman with the North Dakota National Guard, said Thomas P. Mitchell retired in 2007 as a chief warrant officer 3.

Prokopyk was not able to confirm Tuesday afternoon that it was the same man.

“If it is him, we are certainly saddened by the loss of one our National Guard family members,” Prokopyk said.

Mitchell is survived by his wife and three children: Brent, Nick and Kylie. Brent Mitchell said services will be planned in Fargo and Baudette.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department are continuing the investigation into the crash.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556