Witnesses heard engine backfire before Wisconsin plane crash

CHETEK — Witnesses described hearing an engine backfire before a small plane crashed in Wisconsin last month, killing the teenage pilot and seriously injuring a passenger, according to a preliminary investigative report.

The National Transportation Safety Board interviewed several witnesses who were fishing in a pond near the Red Cedar River at the time of crash, The Leader-Telegram (http://bit.ly/2tYm95V) reported.

The two-seat, single-engine plane crashed into the Red Cedar River on May 24. The 17-year-old pilot, Owen Knutson, died at the scene. His passenger, 18-year-old Hunter Gillett, sustained serious injuries but is expected to recover.

Two witnesses reported hearing a popping noise from the engine before the plane descended below the trees and crashed. The report said one witness saw Knutson and Gillett waving through an open airplane door.

The report said there was no evidence of fire or explosion in the plane's wreckage.

The weather at the time of the accident included visibility of 10 miles (16 kilometers) and a wind speed of 3 knots, according to records from the nearby Chetek Municipal-Southworth Airport.

The NTSB's preliminary report is subject to change and may contain errors that will be corrected in the final report, the federal agency noted. The final report may take more than a year to complete.

Gillett, the passenger, has had surgeries on his lower back, face and ankle since the crash.

"Although Hunter has a lot of recovery time left, he gets a little better each day. Fortunately, Hunter will make a full recovery from these injuries," his mother wrote in a social media post about her son's condition. "We thank God every day for all the hurdles that Hunter has overcome, it's a miracle that he's here with us today."