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Crash claims Tech prof, MSU student

2011-08-17T00:00:00Z Crash claims Tech prof, MSU studentBy TIM TRAINOR The Montana Standard Helena Independent Record
August 17, 2011 12:00 am  • 

BUTTE — The two Butte men who died in Monday’s single-engine plane crash were a Montana Tech professor and a 19-year-0ld Montana State University student who was learning to fly.

Butte-Silver Bow County Coroner Lee LaBreche on Tuesday morning confirmed that Richard “Dick” Johnson, 61, and Justin Robbe, 19, were killed.

Johnson was the head of the general engineering department at Montana Tech and a partner at JJ Aviation, a flight instruction company based in Butte.

Robbe was a mechanical engineering student at Montana State University and a 2010 valedictorian at Butte High School.

The two men were piloting the dual-control Piper PA-38 Tomahawk on a training run in empty country west of Butte. Johnson was instructing Robbe and the duo had departed from Butte’s Bert Mooney Airport around 10:30 a.m. Monday.

According to National Transportation Safety Board investigator Josh Cawthra, they first completed a series of touch-and-go landings at the airport, where the plane comes in contact with the ground before taking off again. Then they headed out to work on other airborne maneuvers.

Cawthra said they are investigating just what transpired shortly after in the sky about 10 miles west of Butte. The airplane had no flight data or cockpit voice recorder on board, but did have a handheld global positioning system, or GPS, device mounted onto the instrument panel.

Cawthra said that GPS may be able to provide information as to the altitude, direction and speed the plane was traveling, but investigators have yet to be able to access the equipment.

At least four people contacted Cawthra and claimed to have witnessed the crash. They described the craft as “spiraling” downward. No emergency or distress signals from the plane were received at Bert Mooney Airport.

It is unknown who was piloting the plane at the time of the crash. Cawthra said they may be able to determine that after a full investigation is complete.

Cawthra said they are still investigating the flight experience of both men, but noted that Johnson had a long history as a flight instructor. His coworkers at JJ Aviation called him “Yoda” because he was so knowledgeable about aviation.

Robbe had solo-piloted the same Piper Tomahawk just a month earlier and was an accomplished aviator for his age. He was a sophomore honor roll student at Montana State University-Bozeman, where he studied mechanical engineering.

Doug Abbott, vice chancellor of academic affairs and research at Montana Tech, said Johnson was a cherished member of the family.

“He was a valued professor and mentor to his students and has been a wonderful coworker to the faculty and staff since he first came to campus in 1981,” said Abbott. “He was dedicated to the campus, recently volunteering to serve as the department head of general engineering. We as a campus send out condolences to his wife, Marcia, and his family. He will be greatly missed.”

LaBreche said the bodies of the two men were taken to the Missoula Crime Lab for autopsies and a toxicology test.

Cawthra said the wreckage was removed from the site Tuesday evening and transported to a hangar in Bozeman where it will be analyzed. A preliminary report will be released by Monday, said Cawthra. A full report that may include a cause will be released in six to 18 months.

Liturgy of the Resurrection for Johnson starts at 11 a.m. Friday in St. Ann’s Catholic Church, with private placement of ashes planned at a later date.

Information on arrangements for Robbe weren’t available Tuesday.

Reporter Tim Trainor: tim.trainor@lee.net or 496-5519.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) Comments

  1. Shonkin
    Report Abuse
    Shonkin - August 17, 2011 11:02 am
    The Piper PA-38 has a reputation for being prone to go into a tailspin and for being difficult to get out of one. The witnesses described what seems like an irrecoverable spin. It's unfortunate that two good people died in this accident.

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