Three men from the state of Wyoming were found dead Saturday morning in the wreckage of a single-engine plane that crashed overnight near Thief River Falls in northwestern Minnesota.

The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said it responded to a 911 call just before 8 a.m. Saturday. All three occupants are from Rawlins, Wyo.

The victims were identified as Moy Wing, 69; Brian Duke, 27, and Zach Ostertag, 26.

Authorities described the small plane as a Cessna 182. Thief River Falls is about 70 miles from the Canadian border — and 940 miles from Rawlins.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.

Ostertag, an auto mechanic, was attending an Arctic Cat seminar on specialized vehicles in Thief River Falls, according to his Facebook page.

On Friday afternoon, he posted a picture of two Textron certificates — one for factory ATV/ROVs and another for factory snowmobiles — along with binders and some merchandise.

Later that night, Ostertag posted a video of a lightning storm in the area. It remains unclear when exactly the plane took off, but a calendar he recently posted on Facebook indicated that he expected to return home Saturday.

Duke and Ostertag both worked at Mountain West Motors Inc., an Arctic Cat dealership and auto body garage in Rawlins. When reached by phone Saturday, a worker at the shop declined to comment beyond, “We’re still trying to piece together what happened. Everyone is walking around in shock.”

According to FAA records, one of the occupants, Wing, was issued a private pilot’s certification in 2009.According to FAA records, one of the occupants, Wing, was issued a private pilot’s certification in 2009. However, Wing was not instrument-qualified – meaning that he should only fly when skies are mostly clear and visibility is high.

On Saturday morning, weather trackers show that skies were overcast with a 10-mile visibility in Thief River Falls. But a storm system crept northwest toward the area just before 8 a.m. Saturday, which may have caused low ceilings.
“It’s so easy to find yourself buried in the clouds before you have time to react,” said Robert Katz, a 36-year commercial pilot and flight instructor based in Dallas. “You think you can get over the top of it or around it, and then it swallows you. That’s what gets pilots into trouble.”
Private pilots without instrument ratings are not qualified to offer chartered flights.