HELENA (AP) — A single-engine plane that crashed and killed two people in eastern Montana was conducting a prairie-dog survey for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, an agency spokesman said Friday.
The Piper PA-18 Super Cub with two people on board took off from Miles City on Thursday morning and crashed in a rugged, remote area near the small community of Vananda, bursting into flames after impact.
Rosebud County Sheriff Randy Allies said the men killed in the crash Thursday were 39-year-old pilot Chad H. Cyrus and 43-year-old Randy C. Schwartz.
The plane was registered Cyrus, a Miles City resident. Cyrus was the owner of Big Sky Wildlife Consultants, a small company in that specializes in aerial wildlife surveys, photography and eco-tours.
FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim said Cyrus was under contract with the agency to verify the distribution and size of prairie-dog towns in eastern Montana. Thursday's flight was part of that project, but Aasheim said he did not know who was on board.
Big Sky Wildlife did not immediately return a call at the company's listed number on Friday.
The company conducts aerial wildlife surveys, mapping, monitoring and photography for private and governmental clients in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and Alaska, according to the company's website.
Cyrus was a wildlife biologist and a commercial- and instrument-rated pilot who has logged more than 3,300 flight hours, the website says.
The Piper Super Cub was built in 1957, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database. A description on the company's website says the plane is "fully certified and insured for commercial operations and is registered for contract with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks."
An initial FAA report said the crash occurred under unknown circumstances. The National Weather Service said a cold front Thursday morning had produced light rain and wind gusts up to 40 mph.
It is not known if weather was a factor in the crash.
Allies has said two hunters heard the airplane flying and then a loud explosion as it crashed in a remote area of pastureland. It took rescue crews about an hour to reach the scene.
Thursday's fatal crash was the second this week in Montana. On Monday, a single-engine plane crashed five miles west of Butte, killing a 19-year-old Montana State University student and a 61-year-old Montana Tech engineering professor.
The student, Justin Robbe, was learning to fly and Richard Johnson was a partner with the aviation company that owned the plane.