HELENA — A single-engine airplane crashed north of Helena on Monday afternoon, killing the pilot, Leonard Andrew Coyle, 51, of Helena.
Coroner M.E. “Mickey” Nelson said the airplane, based out of Helena, was built in 1957, but this is not old for an airplane as planes are required to pass inspections to remain in service. Nelson said investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates civil aviation accidents and other significant accidents in other modes of transportation, are expected to arrive today to determine the cause of the crash, adding that as of Monday it was too early say if something went wrong with the plane. Nelson ruled out the weather as a likely cause, noting the conditions were “perfect.” Nelson did not know if Coyle had filed a flight plan and said Coyle’s wife indicated her husband had just gone flying. It is possible, Nelson added, that Coyle was bound for Bozemen. Coyle was apparently the only person in the airplane at the time of the accident, according to Nelson and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton. Coyle died upon impact, Nelson said, adding, “No one could have escaped from this after it hit the ground.” Dutton said the crash site would likely be closed for two days to allow for an examination by inves-tigators. Witnesses told authori-ties they saw and heard the plane just seconds before the crash, which Dutton said was reported at 12:12 p.m. Debris from the airplane was scattered across a small area in ranchland at the end of Glass Drive and about three miles north of Lin-coln Road. The area was cordoned off with yellow plastic tape. A portion of the tail of the airplane was all that remained intact. Don Heide, who lives along N. Montana Avenue, was among the first people to respond to the accident and said he had reported it. He was outside his shop working when he heard the pitch of an airplane’s engine change and said that drew his attention. He described the weather at the time as calm and clear. The area where the crash occurred is used by pilots for practice, Dutton said. It’s unclear if the pilot was practicing a maneuver at the time of the accident. Looking up, Heide said he saw the airplane maybe 1,000 feet overhead com-ing straight down in a spiral. The plane disap-peared from his view behind some trees before he could see it strike the ground. There was no smoke or flash from the crash, only the sound that Dutton called a thud as it hit the ground. Heide said he did not see other airplanes overhead at the time of the accident. He arrived at the scene about 10 minutes after the crash and described the wreckage as a pile of alu-minum. He said he did not see anyone outside of the airplane at the time. Members of the Federal Aviation Administration arrived by early afternoon to begin trying to deter-mine what caused the crash.