Hermantown man confirmed dead after small plane crashes off Grassy Point in Duluth

The victim was identified as David Rathbun.

Debris from a plane crash
Emergency personnel respond to a small-plane crash Friday near Grassy Point in Duluth.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — A small plane crashed into the St. Louis River near Grassy Point in West Duluth late Friday afternoon, killing at least one person.

Shortly after 4 p.m. Friday, police were notified of a plane crash there, Sgt. Ben Fye of the St. Louis County Sheriff's Department told reporters at a short press conference around 6:30 p.m.

The crash killed a 52-year-old man from Hermantown, according to a news release sheriff's department staff published late Friday, and no one else was in the aircraft when it crashed. According to an additional release from the sheriff's office issued Saturday afternoon, the victim was identified as David Rathbun.

It does not appear that the plane clipped the nearby Bong Bridge, and police report no structures in the area were damaged by the crash. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are set to investigate the crash.

According to a tweet from St. Louis County Sheriff Gordon Ramsay, the plane involved was described as small, and was partially submerged in the water of the St. Louis River. The crash left a long gash in the river ice, and a portion of the plane was seemingly still visible above the water from the Bong Bridge.


Part of a plane after a crash
A small plane crashed near Grassy Point in Duluth Friday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Dan Jelen of Monticello, Minnesota, said he and his wife were driving north on I-35 when they saw a small puff of black smoke in the distance on the river. From that smoke, he said, came a massive fireball.

"We were miles away and it still looked huge," Jelen told the News Tribune. "We didn't think it was real until we passed several emergency vehicles responding."

A cloud of smoke after a small plane crash
A dark cloud of smoke could be seen over the area of a small-plane crash in Duluth Friday.
Contributed / Dan Jelen

Just before 5 p.m., a News Tribune reporter could see several fire trucks and Duluth Police Department squads leaving the Grassy Point area but many emergency vehicles, including several rescue squad vehicles, remained at the scene.

Police and fire department vehicles responding to a plane crash
Duluth Police and Duluth Fire Department vehicles respond to a small-plane crash near Grassy Point in Duluth Friday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Preliminary data from flight-tracking websites FlightRadar24 and FlightAware indicate a plane took off from Duluth International Airport shortly after 4 p.m., turned south, and then descended to a spot near Grassy Point at about 4:07 p.m.

plane crash.jpg
Gary Meader /Duluth News Tribune

This story was updated at 3:48 p.m. on Feb. 25 with the victim's name and with news conference details at 9:40 and 7:25 p.m., Feb. 24. It was originally posted at 5:21 p.m., Feb. 24.

Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.
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