MARION, Mont. (AP) _ A small plane that crashed near a private airstrip, killing its pilot and four skydivers, had made an abrupt turn just before going down, a federal investigator said Sunday.
The Cessna 182 had just taken off from Skydive Lost Prairie when it crashed Saturday.
Tom Little, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said it was too early to tell what caused the crash, but he said it appeared that the plane made a 180-degree turn just after takeoff and was only about 500 feet high before it plummeted to earth.
Little said he and representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration should have a preliminary report ready by Thursday.
The passengers were two Great Falls residents planning to jump in tandem with instructors from Whitefish and Missoula, authorities said. The instructors were identified as David M. Landeck, Jr., of Missoula and Joel Atkinson of Kalispell, both 25, Buffalo Hills Funeral Home and Crematory said in death notices.
Fred Sand, owner of Skydive Lost Prairie, said the two tandem jumpers would have undergone about an hour of training and paid $169 each for a 30-second free fall from 9,000 feet.
The pilot was from out of state and had been working at Skydive Lost Prairie for about 10 days.
Names of the victims had not yet been released because family members of all the victims had not been notified.