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Mon, Mar 23, 2009

Friends Say Imeson Was Headed To Site Of Previous Accident

Online Data Shows Unusual Flight Two Days Before Mountain Pilot Disappeared

Friends of expert mountain flying pilot Sparky Imeson on Friday said the intended destination of his final flight was to the site where he and another pilot crashed two years ago, to take photos for instructional presentations.

Gary McDonald and Galen Hanselman, friends of Imeson, told the Jackson Hole, WY News & Guide that Sparky departed Bozeman airport March 17 with the intention of taking photos of the former crash site, for use in his seminars on mountain flying techniques.

McDonald speculated Imeson (shown at right) might have had engine trouble or run into some other unexpected problem. "We know he was up there, he was going to take pictures. He had no trouble up on top in the high country, but he had trouble below," McDonald said.

The previous mountain flying accident occurred in 2007, when Imeson and pilot Jon C. Kantorowicz were caught in a downdraft while flying over the Elkhorn range, pushing their Aviat Husky into the mountainous terrain. Both men received relatively minor injuries and were rescued the next morning.

As ANN reported, Imeson, 64, took off solo Tuesday from Gallatin Field (BZN) near Bozeman, MT in his 1962 Cessna 180F. Imeson's plane disappeared from radar over rugged terrain about 18 miles northeast of Bozeman not long after, and a search for the downed plane ensued.

The wreckage of Imeson's plane was located on Thursday morning, about two miles southwest of the Canyon Ferry airport (8U9) near Townsend.

National Transportation Safety Board Deputy Regional Chief Debra Eckrote said, "A witness saw the aircraft flying low in the area. It appears he cleared a ridge line and then collided with some trees. Evidence on site indicates the aircraft hit a couple of trees and then the ground." The plane's wreckage was spread "over a couple of hundred feet," Eckrote added.

The story may have an odd prologue, as well. Online tracking information from FlightAware.com indicates days before, Imeson made a flight into rarified air. His flight plan showed a planned cruising altitude of FL220 -- service ceiling on the Cessna 180F is around 20,000 feet -- and that he eventually climbed to FL240.

Seemingly disoriented, Imeson was eventually talked down by a controller at Salt Lake Center, landing in Billings instead of returning to Helena as originally planned. McDonald speculated that Imeson had oxygen aboard during the March 15 flight, but a problem may have developed with the equipment during the flight.

What relevance -- if any -- the earlier flight may have to Tuesday's crash remains to be determined by the NTSB.

FMI: www.mdt.mt.gov, www.montanapilots.org, www.faa.gov, www.ntsb.gov

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