The two people killed Friday night when a small plane nose-dived into the Mississippi River in Ramsey have been identified as a couple from Princeton, Minn., who shared a love of flying.
They were on a low-altitude scenic flight over the rain-swollen river around 5:30 p.m. Friday when their single-engine Cessna struck power lines over the river near the 6400 block of Riverdale Drive NW., Lt. Brent Erickson of the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday.
“Just a husband and wife out for a flight and, unfortunately, tragedy,” he said. “He was flying upriver … in a westerly direction. The skies were clear last night. … He may have been blinded by the sun. That may have played a part in him not being able to see the power lines.”
No one else was on board.
A salvage crew worked the river Saturday after sonar scans found the fuselage and one of the wings about 300 yards downriver from the power lines. High, swift water full of swirling debris prevented divers from entering the water.
The body of the presumed passenger, Jill M. Rygwall, 48, of Princeton, was found in the river shortly after the crash. The body of her husband, whose name has not been released by authorities, is believed to be in the underwater wreckage, Erickson said.
Public records identify him as Chad J. Rygwall, 47, and confirm that he has had a private pilot’s license for five years. A single-engine Cessna is registered in his name.
A 2005 article on the Senior Perspective magazine website said that Rygwall was colorblind but had dreamed of being a pilot like his relatives. It said Federal Aviation Administration rules restricted him from flying at night and he had to receive special medical certification every two years to retain his license.
Chad Rygwall became enamored with flying as a child when his uncle flew him over the forests of the North Shore, but he didn’t get his license until after a severe heart attack a few years ago, said his cousin, Brian Rygwall, who also is a pilot. “I mean, he took every chance he could to fly. He took Jill, his wife, up all the time, and I’m assuming they just went up and were having a joy ride like they always do.”
No flight plan
Brian Rygwall was flying back from Los Angeles when he heard air traffic radio transmissions about the crash, but he didn’t know who it was until someone called him at home.
Jill Rygwall worked in special education in the Princeton School District. She graduated in 1991 from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.
“Jill was very kind in her work with special needs students, helping them to meet their goals,” Princeton Superintendent Julia Espe said. “She will be greatly missed.”
The Rygwalls have a son, Andrew, 13, who is with his grandparents.
The plane flew out of the small Princeton airport, which does not require registration of a flight plan, Erickson said. National Transportation Safety Board officials are participating in the investigation.
Lora Hamilton, 83, of Ramsey, said Friday that she was dining at her home near the river when she saw the plane. “It was below tree height,” she said. Then she heard the crash.
Chad and Jill Rygwall were married for 23 years. Their deaths have devastated the family, Brian Rygwall said. “As happy as the two of them were, they were the model couple.”