An Omaha surgeon and two family members were killed in a plane crash Saturday evening in Victoria, according to a relative.

Jo Mertes of Mantador, N.D., confirmed in a phone call Sunday that her nephew, Jacob Mertes, was a passenger on the single-engine Mooney M20 plane that crashed into a vacant lot and then struck a home.

Jacob Mertes, 42, of Libby, Mont., was on the plane with his wife, Sara, 37, and step­father Dr. James Edney, 72, who was the pilot, according to Jo Mertes.

During a Sunday media briefing, Mike Folkerts, National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator for the central region, confirmed there were three fatalities and expressed condolences to friends and family. "Our hearts go out to them," he said.

Folkerts said the medical examiner's office will soon release identification of victims, while a preliminary report of the crash will come out in two weeks and the full report will take 12 to 18 months.

The pilot did not make a distress call, Folkerts said, adding that the pilot contacted the control tower for standard landing but then made several deviations from the planned route. He said the pilot filed an instrument flight plan from Alexandria to Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie.

Portions of the plane were found two blocks from the crash site and Folkerts said some pieces, including a left horizontal stabilizer, fell off before the crash. The plane can't be controlled without those parts, Folkerts said.

He said the NTSB is looking into all factors that could have caused the crash, including the pilot, the aircraft and the environment.

The city of Victoria said in a statement on the crash that no one was injured from the nearby house on Rose Street that was struck by the plane and caught on fire, nor were any bystanders. The family was home at the time of the crash.

The plane is owned by Edney, an Omaha general surgeon and professor emeritus in the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Department of Surgery.

"Dr. Edney was a consummate clinician and educator, recognized as one of the top breast cancer specialists in the region," said Dr. Bradley Britigan, dean of the UNMC College of Medicine, in a news release.

Sara Mertes' Facebook page shows that she was a physician at Cabinet Peaks Medical Center in Libby, while Jacob Mertes worked as a sanitarian and planner for the Lincoln County Health Department.

Robert Katz, a 40-year aviation expert from Dallas who is a certified flight instructor and commercial pilot, follows plane crashes across the country. He analyzed the Victoria crash, listening to the audio communication between the pilot and traffic control leading up to the crash and watching footage of the aftermath.

"It's an absolute miracle that no one on the ground was hurt by this," Katz said Sunday.

"Listening to audio of the pilot, he was clearly in trouble."

The Federal Aviation Administration shared the flight path of the plane that took off from the airport in Alexandria, heading to Flying Cloud Airport. It went down around 5:45 p.m. Saturday near Hwy. 5 and County Road 11.

The weather Saturday evening near Flying Cloud showed a 1,000-foot ceiling, which Katz said means the clouds were 1,000 feet above ground. "I believe that as he was descending, he became disoriented in the clouds," said Katz, adding that he listened to the pilot call into Flying Cloud air traffic control center Saturday night and watched security camera footage that caught the quick, fiery crash.

The plane is privately owned with no commercial purpose, according to plane registration details from the FAA.

Upon impact with the vacant lot, the plane's wings, which store aviation fuel, ripped open and ignited once it hit the hot engine components, Katz said.

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751

Correction: This story has been corrected to note that the NTSB said the pilot filed an instrument flight plan.