The pilot who lost control of the plane he was flying before crashing into a vacant lot in Victoria on a cloudy evening in August 2021 likely became disoriented minutes before the aircraft went down.
That's the conclusion of a report from the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the Aug. 7 crash that killed three people.
Pilot James Edney, 72, who was an Omaha general surgeon and professor emeritus in the University of Nebraska Medical Center Department of Surgery, was killed. Two other family members who were on the Mooney M20M aircraft — Jacob Mertes, 42, of Libby, Mont., and his wife, Sara, 37 — also died in the fiery crash that happened near Hwy. 5 and Carver County Road 11.
Edney and his two passengers had taken off from Alexandria, Minn., and were on final approach to Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie about 5:40 p.m. when Edney gained clearance to land. At that time, the aircraft slowed down, tracked left from the approach course, then sped up before losing altitude. Edney received and acknowledged a "low altitude" alert from the control tower, the report said.
The airplane then abruptly turned left and entered a steep descent. The airplane continued in a left-turning spiral before crashing and bursting into flames about 8 miles from the airfield. Video capturing the impact showed part of the plane hitting a house, which started on fire, but was quickly put out by witnesses.
Nobody in the house or on the ground was hurt, authorities said at the time.
"The airplane debris on the ground...showed that an in-flight breakup occurred during the final seconds of flight," the NTSB's report read. "The spiral descent and attempted recovery overstressed the airplane, which caused the in-flight breakup."
The pilot of another plane that had landed at Flying Cloud just ahead of Edney's expected touchdown told the NTSB that he heard communication between the control tower and Edney, and that Edney sounded "stressed" and "confused."
Edney did not make any distress calls, officials said at the time of the crash.
Investigators found several of Edney's radio transmission to air traffic controllers were "delayed or disjointed," indicating that Edney was "task-saturated." The erratic turns, altitude fluctuations and tight spiraling were consistent with Edney becoming spatially disoriented due to lack of visual references, investigators said.
"The pilot's spatial disorientation led to his loss of airplane control," they wrote.
In Edney's most recent review, a flight instructor noted he was "very safety conscious" and "detail oriented," the report said.
The single-engine plane had no mechanical failures or malfunctions with the aircraft's frame or engine that would have precluded normal operation, they wrote.