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Published April 23 2013

Probe: Pilot error likely cause in Valley City air show crash

FARGO – The National Transportation Safety Board says pilot error was the probable cause of a Sept. 7 crash that killed veteran pilot Bob Odegaard as he was practicing for an air show near Valley City in his vintage war plane.

Witnesses reported that Odegaard, 66, of Kindred, had completed the initial portion of his routine at the Barnes County Municipal Airport without any apparent difficulties, reaching altitudes of about 2,000 feet above ground level during his maneuvers, according to the NTSB report.

After doing a four-point roll, Odegaard’s World War II-era Super Corsair pitched up and rolled to the left as if he were entering a barrel roll, but witnesses said the airplane only reached an altitude of about 1,000 feet, the report says.

When the airplane was inverted, the roll stopped and the airplane pitched down toward the ground. One witness noted that vapor trails were visible from the wingtips as Odegaard attempted to pull out, the report says.

The report, dated April 10, lists the probable cause of the accident as the “pilot’s decision to initiate the aerobatic maneuver at an altitude that did not allow for full recovery of the airplane before ground impact.”

Dick Walstad and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Darrol Schroeder, friends of Odegaard who worked with him and Gerald Beck to establish the Fargo Air Museum and AirSho, expressed surprise Tuesday at the NTSB’s findings.

“I’m a little surprised,” Walstad said. “Bob was a very experienced, very talented pilot and had performed maneuvers of this kind many, many times before.”

The NTSB found no signs of a pre-impact mechanical failure or malfunction, though it noted the extent of the damage didn’t allow for a complete exam of the flight control system.

“However, witness statements were consistent with the pilot initiating the final aerobatic maneuver from an altitude that did not allow full recovery of the airplane,” the report says.

Schroeder, a longtime friend of Odegaard’s and fellow cropduster, said he doesn’t agree with the report, especially given that the flight control system couldn’t be completely examined.

“It really surprises me that they didn’t put ‘cause undetermined’ on it,” he said.

Schroeder, who graduated from aerospace safety school in the Air Force and has more than 20,000 hours of flight experience as Odegaard did, said there could have been an unknown mechanical or physical problem that caused Odegaard to begin his final maneuver at a lower altitude.

“That isn’t like him at all,” he said, adding, “Everyone that’s flown with him has just marveled.”

Odegaard was known for restoring airplanes and also operated an aerial spraying business and served as the Kindred Airport manager.

The Fargo Air Museum is building an aircraft hangar addition named in honor of Odegaard and Beck, of Wahpeton, who died in 2007 when his P-51 crashed at an air show in Oshkosh, Wis.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528