Plane Crash Kills Two Men: Aircraft Narrowly Misses Bethel Baptist Church

This article originally appeared in the Daily Inter Lake on Aug. 30, 2004. View published clip (PDF).

The pilot and passenger of a single-engine airplane were killed Sunday when the aircraft plunged into a Kalispell house, just missing churchgoers who were leaving an 11 a.m. service across the street.

A fire official said the wood-frame house, at 921 Fourth Avenue West, was empty except for a large dog that apparently was killed when the plane crashed into the front porch.

“It doesn’t appear anyone was home” after two searches were conducted, said Jim Stewart, assistant fire chief of the Kalispell Fire Department.

Stewart did not know the ages of the two victims, whom the Associated Press reported were two men from Kalispell. Stewart did not know whether either initially had survived the impact, but said paramedics first checked for signs of life. When none were found, the bodies were left in the plane as firefighters began focusing on fire suppression, dousing spilled fuel with water.

No other injuries were reported.

Witnesses say they heard the engine sputter and saw the plane wobble moments before it crashed. The plane was “really, really low,” said Chad Deda, who lives nearby. “You could hear it sputtering. I heard this loud boom and ran over here.”

Rev. David Pestel, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church across the street, had just left his congregation out when some people began rushing to get outside, saying that a plane had crashed about 100 feet away.

“We had children running around the parking lot and people getting into cars,” he said, still shaken almost an hour after the crash. “We’re just incredibly grateful … we’ve been spared.”

Federal Aviation Administration records do not name the owner of the plane, a 1952 Beechcraft 35, instead listing ownership as “registration pending.” The plane is listed as being out of Kalispell, however.

Officials said the plane will remain at the scene until the FAA completes its investigation. Investigators reportedly had to be called in from Seattle, and were expected to arrive Sunday evening.

The first Kalispell fire units arrived on the scene two minutes after the call came into 911 at 12:36 p.m. Kalispell Police, Flathead County Sheriff’s Department, Montana Highway Patrol and the Office of Emergency Services also responded.

The 900 block of Fourth Avenue West was cordoned off with yellow tape to hold back the more than 100 people who had gathered.