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AEROSPACE TRAGEDY: UND pilot killed

Flight instructor, 22, crashes in Rapid City with UND plane

Robert Oliver Thomsen, a 22-year-old UND aerospace school flight instructor died Monday evening in a plane crash in Rapid City, S.D. He was practicing touch-and-go landings in clear weather about an hour before the crash at Rapid City Regional Airport, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro .

Thomsen was reportedly trying to make a full stop on a runway when the one-year-old, two-engine Piper Seminole he was piloting, increased speed, pulled up, stalled and crashed at 7:32 p.m., Molinaro said.  The UND-owned plane broke into several pieces.

Molinaro said the FAA would turn the investigation over to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Weather was not a factor, said Brad Hagen, executive director of the Rapid City airport. The runway was dry and skies were clear with little wind.

"We're not going to speculate on a cause," said Bruce Smith, dean of UND's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. "We're just going to let the board do its work." Smith said the school would support the findings of the NTSB.

Thomsen had checked out the plane for personal use, a routine procedure for flight instructors as part of their professional development. But the University of North Dakota doesn't know why he was at the Rapid City airport, Smith said.

UND flight operations were closed Tuesday for safety reasons, a routine step after a fatal accident. The fatal accident was not the first connected to the University of North Dakota's aerospace school.

Thomsen was, well known among his fellow flight instructors and UND students. He graduated from the school summa cum laude with a 3.84 grade-point average in December of 1999. Like most of UND's 200 flight instructors, Thomsen was working for UND, gaining experience until he had enough flight hours for a commercial airline.

Reference: Grand Forks Herald, Wednesday, October 4, 2000