Investigation reveals new details about what led to Mississippi River plane crash

Chad and Jill Rygwall were taking a trip up the Mississippi river when tragedy stuck.
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The stretch of river where the Rygwalls' plane went down.

The stretch of river where the Rygwalls' plane went down.

The plane that crashed in the Mississippi River earlier this month, killing a husband and wife, was spotted flying low just before it struck a set of power lines.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released the preliminary findings in its investigation of the Oct. 13 crash near Ramsey, Minnesota that killed pilot Chad Rygwall, 47, of Princeton, and his wife Jill, 48.

The wreckage of their Cessna 172M plane was found on the bottom of the river, after witnesses saw the plane crash into power lines.

Video footage taken on the ground showed the plane flying at low altitude over the river below the level of the trees as they traveled northwest, the NTSB says.

The plane then banked into a shallow left turn as it followed the bend of the river, but 200 yards after the bend it struck four power lines that stretched across the water.

One witness told the NTSB they thought the pilot was trying to fly underneath the power lines, which were below the tree-line but equipped with red aerial marker balls.

The plane was not operating on a flight plan, the NTSB says, but these are only required when flying under instrument flight rules (IFR) that allow aircraft to travel through clouds and fog.

Initially there was suggestion that Rygwall might have been blinded by the sun, as reported by the Star Tribune, causing him not to see the power lines.

“Just a husband and wife out for a flight and, unfortunately, tragedy,” Lt. Brent Erickson told the paper.

The NTSB says the sun was 9 degrees above the horizon to the west-southwest at the time of the crash, but doesn't suggest that it played a role in the crash. 

The investigation continues, however.

A man who loved to fly

Senior Perspective wrote a feature on Chad Rygwall in 2005, which revealed he had always dreamed of being a pilot like his uncle and cousin were, and was inspired to do so after suffering a heart attack at 40.

He didn't get a plane before then because he was colorblind, which restricted him from flying at night and required regular medicals to retain his license.

He would fly two or three days a week depending on the weather, with his wife and 13-year-old son Andrew joining him sometimes on short trips throughout the state, even quick jaunts just to have lunch somewhere.

A GoFundMe has been created to raise money for their son's education, which has so far generated more than $13,000 in donations.

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