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Feds Probe Plane Crash That Killed Montana Band

July 6, 1987

LAKESIDE, Mont. (AP) _ Investigators pieced together dozens of contradictory statements from witnesses as they sought the cause of a plane crash that killed 10 people, including all five members of a bluegrass band.

The 1946 twin-engine Beechcraft carrying the five members of The Montana Band crashed Saturday evening in an old apple orchard overlooking Flathead Lake, a popular resort area.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were analyzing wreckage and witness statements.

″We’ll talk to as many witnesses as we can, put all their stories together and see if we can find enough that matches,″ said FAA investigator Don Paul. ″The problem is that people aren’t always sure what they’ve seen.″

″There were so many eyewitnesses. The lake was full of people″ boating and enjoying other recreation activities on the July Fourth holiday, said Corky Derby, spokeswoman for the Flathead County sheriff’s office in Kalispell.

″Everybody saw something different,″ Derby said. ″Anyone who saw anything is being asked to make a statement, and they’re all being turned over to the (federal) investigators.

″They asked us to collect statements from all the witnesses, and they’ll see if they can piece together something accurate. I can’t believe all the different versions I’ve heard,″ Derby said.

Just before the plane crashed, it flew low over Flathead Lake and buzzed a boat, said Virgil Deppmeier of Los Altos, Calif., who has a summer residence on the lake.

″It looked like they knew somebody in the boat,″ he said. ″They came over and waggled their wings.″

″We saw (the airplane) come across the lake and then climb up″ as it flew inland, Deppmeier’s wife, Pat, said. ″Then we didn’t hear (the plane) anymore, and one of the kids said, ‘They crashed 3/8 There’s smoke 3/8’ ... The smoke was just incredible.″

The victims were identified as pilot Joe Taylor of Athol, Idaho; his friend, Jean Bernadine Lemery of Coeur d’Alene; band manager Tom Sawan of Missoula; sound manager Dale Anderson of Fort Benton; and Dallas Tipton, 12, son of band member Clifford Tipton of Reno, Nev.

In addition to Clifford Tipton, other band members killed were Kurt Bergeron, Spokane, Wash.; Allan Larson, Tulsa, Okla.; Grady Whitfield, Salt Lake City; and Terry Robinson, Whitefish.

The plane had arrived from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and flew low over the lake on Saturday morning, ″buzzing″ the residence of Dale Moore, where the band was to play for a private party, witnesses said.

The aircraft took off from Kalispell City Airport a short time before the crash, en route to Coeur D’Alene for an engagement, Derby said.

When it went down, it hit the tops of pine trees about 20 yards from U.S. Highway 93, tearing off a part of the tail section, then cut a burning swath through trees before plowing into the apple orchard, leaving an 80-yard trail of broken trees and wreckage.

″Both engines showed signs of having power on when it impacted,″ Paul said.

The Montana Band, formed in 1971 as the Mission Mountain Wood Band, was based in recent years in Reno, Nev. The group won the country division of the Willie Nelson Music Invitational last year in Austin, Texas, and won the Reno Area Music Award as the top country band in 1984 and 1986.

The band never had a national hit but recorded some albums and made numerous guest appearances on television.

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