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NTSB issues initial report on plane crash that killed 6 headed for Minnesota

CATAWBA, Wis.—There was no distress call and weather does not appear to have been a factor in a plane crash that killed six people in north-central Wisconsin last month, according to preliminary findings from federal investigators.

The twin-engine Cessna 421C broke up in midair and crashed early on the morning of July 1 near Catawba, about 110 miles southeast of Duluth. It had left Waukegan, Ill., and was bound for Warroad, Minn., with the pilot and passengers scheduled to be picked up by a guide company for a fishing trip in Manitoba, according to the preliminary report issued this week by the National Transportation Safety Board.

It can take months — sometimes more than a year — for a final report to be issued on a plane crash. There were no voice or data recorders on the plane, the NTSB reported.

The Price County Sheriff's Office last month identified the victims of the crash as Kevin King, 70, of Bensenville, Ill.; James Francis, 63, of Norco, Calif.; Kyle DeMauro, 21, of Bensenville; Thomas DeMauro, 56, of Bensenville; Charles Tomlitz, 69, of Addison, Ill.; and George Tomlitz, 45, of Brookfield, Ill.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Thomas and Kyle DeMauro and Charles and George Tomlitz were father-son pairs.

Authorities have not said who was piloting the plane, but WLS-TV in Chicago, citing friends, identified the pilot as King, a former fighter pilot who lived next door to the DeMauros.

The crash happened just before 2 a.m. July 1, about 85 minutes into the flight, "after an uncontrolled descent and in-flight breakup," the NTSB report states.

"According to Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control (ATC) and radar records, the airplane was flying (at) about 10,000 feet ... when the pilot queried the ATC controller about weather conditions in the vicinity. Preliminary radar data showed the airplane between 10,000 and 10,500 feet in a slight left turn and then a descending right turn. After the right turn, radio contact was lost and the airplane descended rapidly. There were no distress calls from the pilot," the report states.

A search and rescue operation was launched immediately after radar contact was lost. Debris was found along State Highway 111 and in nearby woods. The plane's tail assembly was detached from the fuselage and found about 1,200 feet from the main wreckage, the NTSB reported; one of the engines was found in a 9-foot-deep crater.

The NTSB report states that "regional weather radar did not report any convection or thunderstorms coincident with the airplane's flightpath, or near to the flightpath." The nearest storms that night were about 25 miles to the east "with no coincidental lightning."

One witness who was driving home from work at the time of the crash reported to the NTSB that "he heard engine noise, then did not hear engine noise, then heard engine noise again. He then saw what he thought were the lights of a airplane, and then the lights went out."

The wreckage was transported to a secure facility in Minnesota for further examination; the engines were shipped to a facility in Alabama for further examination.

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