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MnDOT crew workers pull pilot from downed plane in NW Minnesota

By Paul Walsh

Star Tribune

Two state highway construction workers witnessed a small plane crash in northwestern Minnesota and pulled the pilot from the wreckage before emergency personnel arrived to take the aviator to a Fargo hospital, authorities said Wednesday.

The crash occurred about 8 p.m. Tuesday about 5 miles south of Mahnomen and near the local airport, according to the Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office.

The pilot was put in an air ambulance and flown to Sanford Health for treatment of unspecified injuries, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

A hospital spokeswoman identified the pilot as Mark P. Habedank, 56, of nearby Twin Valley.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) workers who came to the pilot’s aid were part of a crew working on improvements to Hwy. 59 from near Callaway, south of the crash scene, north to Winger.

Doug Zarling and Erik Fitzgerald were driving back to Mahnomen after a day’s work and “saw the airplane about 500 yards in front of them, flying straight,” said T.J. Melcher, a Bemidji-based MnDOT spokesman, who spoke with Zarling about the incident.

“At some point, it banked to the right and went down in the dirt,” Melcher said. “They saw it [crash] right there.”

Zarling and Fitzgerald pulled over, called 911 and headed to the wreckage, where they found the bloodied “pilot coherent” and suffering from ankle and other injuries, Melcher said.

A third passerby showed up and seemed to “know the pilot or the plane and shut things off,” the spokesman said.

It was then that Zarling and Fitzgerald got the pilot out of the mangled aircraft. The first emergency personnel arrived about 8 to 10 minutes later, Melcher said.

“They felt they did what any person would have done,” Melcher said, noting that both workers are not interested in being interviewed by the news media.