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Body of missing pilot found in plane wreckage

CLEARWATER COUNTY, Minn. -- The body of Andrew Lindberg was found Wednesday morning with his downed plane in a remote, wooded area on the White Earth Indian Reservation about 4.5 miles south and 2 miles east of Nay-Tah-Waush.

Deputies from Clearwater and Mahnomen counties reached the plane this morning, said Jeanine Brand, Clearwater County attorney and public information officer.

The crash site is near the intersection of state Highway 200 and Height of Land Forest Road in the White Earth State Forest.

National Transportation Safety Board officials were on the scene to investigate the crash.

Lindberg's family also was at the scene, including his wife, Kate, and his father, Bill Lindberg, said Mahnomen County Sheriff Doug Krier.

Dr. Rudd Thabes, Clearwater County coroner, left the scene at about 1:45 p.m. in a gray van with Lindberg's body, officials said. The body will be transported either to Hibbing, Minn., or St. Paul for an autopsy.

Since Saturday morning, the state's Civil Air Patrol had mounted its largest air search in recent memory for Lindberg, 32, formerly of Hallock, Minn. Members of the Bemidji-based Northland Composite Squadron were part of the search effort.

Lindberg was flying Friday night from Lakeville, Minn., to Hallock to go deer hunting with his father, Bill, and others. The last contact he made was a text message from his cell phone to his father, who was waiting at the Hallock airport, saying he was over Staples, Minn., about 6:30 p.m.

A Minnesota State Patrol helicopter was sent up Wednesday morning to help steer ground crews to the crash site, which is near where the counties of Clearwater, Mahnomen and Becker all converge.

Tom Hill, a pilot from Walker, said he was flying his own Cessna 172 around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday when he spotted Lindberg's plane from an altitude of about 300 feet, noticing the tail fin sticking up out of a brushy, wooded site. On another pass, Hill said, he got within 50 feet of the treetops and could see a burned area around the plane, but no broken branches, suggesting the plane came in straight from above.

The crash site was so small and obscure, Hill said, that had he not taken the flight path that he did and had been, instead, 100 feet off to one side, he would never have spotted it.

Hill said he later showed the site to Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Paul Brehm. The appearance of the wreckage suggested that there was little chance the crash was survivable and that a nighttime rescue in the remote area would not have been safe, Krier said.

The State Patrol helicopter directed ground crews to the site Wednesday morning; they had to get in on foot. A logging tractor had to be used to lead in searchers.

Officials identified Lindberg's plane by numbers on its tail, Krier said. It seemed evident that Lindberg died on impact, Krier said.

Hill, who spotted the wreckage, was not part of the 18-aircraft Civil Air Patrol search involving 80 trained volunteers that flew over nine counties Tuesday, including Mahnomen. The CAP effort also involved five ground crews that check out leads from aircraft crews.

Lindberg was a new pilot flying a Piper Cherokee. His last text message Friday night bounced off a cell tower between Staples and Wadena, on what would be a pretty straight line between Lakeville and Hallock, CAP officials said.

The weather in the area on Friday night was not good flying weather, CAP officials have said, with clouds and some rain reported.

Stephen J. Lee is a reporter at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.