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UND: Saturday crash in Park Rapids was 'rare'

The Cessna that crashed just off the Park Rapids runway sits nose down in an adjacent field. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)

The crash of a UND aircraft in Park Rapids, Minn., Saturday was an accident that university officials are stressing is relatively rare.

Over the past 10 years, the aerospace program has averaged 2.2 accidents per 100,000 hours of flight time, Flight Operations Director Al Palmer said.

The average for general aviation as a whole, he said, is about six or seven per 100,000 hours.

Accidents could involve crashes, he said, but they also encompass other accidents to aircraft structure such as a rough landing.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the weekend crash of a Cessna 172S that took off near Park Rapids. Li Yang, an Air China employee studying at UND, was making a "routine cross-country solo flight," according to the university. He was treated and released from a local hospital.

The Cessna 172S has a glass cockpit and, Palmer said, airplanes of this kind have a kind of black box that records some information. The NTSB would look at that, he said, as well as the engine to see if anything went wrong.

Initial reports show the plane took off and shortly after crashed 100 to 150 yards from the runway.

The Cessna 172S also sported an airbag system, similar to ones in cars, though it's unclear if the airbag was deployed in the Saturday crash. UND spokesman Peter Johnson said he understood it had.

Palmer said UND's newer aircraft all have airbags. The university, he said, fosters a "strong safety culture" that includes standardized checklists for aviation students to remember safety factors and maintenance that's overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration.

When accidents do occur, UND has a response team that can go out and get the student or, in Saturday's case, visit at the hospital and transport him home, Palmer said. UND also reviews its safety procedures, he said.

After the NTSB suggested that migrating geese probably caused the October 2007 crash that killed two UND aviation students, he said, the university alerted other students to be wary of migration routes in flight planning.

Palmer said he's not sure how UND will replace the crashed Cessna 172S. Insurance adjusters would have a lot to say about whether the plane is totaled or repaired, he said. A replacement would cost about $250,000, he said.

In the short term, he said, UND may lease.