Darrell Ward, one of the stars of the popular reality series “Ice Road Truckers” was among two killed in a small plane crash at the Rock Creek Airport in Clinton, Montana. The crash took place off of Interstate 90; witnesses say the Cessna 182D attempt to land twice before crashing and going up in flames.
Made famous by his role in the History Channel’s danger-filled trucking series, Ward was headed to Montana from Dallas, Texas, where he was participating in The Great American Truck Show. Once in Montana, Ward was set to begin work on a television show about the recovery of plane wrecks. He and the other man aboard, Mark Melotz, had departed Missoula International Airport about 45 minutes prior to the small plane crash.
What Caused the Small Plane Crash that Killed Ward?
After an investigation into the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a preliminary report outlining the cause of the incident. In the report, the NTSB cites a certified commercial pilot who saw the Cessna 182D overfly the airport from east to west and then return to the east for a second attempt at landing. The witness says that the Cessna 182D appeared stable on its final approach, but that when it was “40 feet above the runway and preparing to land”, the plane “veered 90 degrees to the right”, smashing into trees on the north border of the runway and hitting the ground before bursting into flames.
Another witness, Eric Komberec, who was waiting with his family at the Rock Creek Airport to pick up Ward and Melotz, said that the weather conditions were good and that what went wrong appeared to be “out of the ordinary,” unlike anything he’d ever seen. Komberec expressed doubt that “anybody will ever know what happened”.
Additional witnesses spoke with Missoula County Sheriff’s Department Patrol Captain Bill Burt after his arrival at the scene. Burt said in a statement that after speaking with witnesses, it was clear “something went drastically wrong.”
The initial investigation into the plane crash was done at the crash site in Clinton, Montana, with further examination of the Cessna 182D taking place at a secured location.
Who Was With Darrell Ward in the Plane Crash?
Traveling in the Cessna 182D with Ward was Mark Melotz, a resident of Arlee, Montana, and a close friend of Ward’s. Though it has not been confirmed whether Melotz was flying the aircraft or serving as co-pilot for Ward before the crash occurred, most identify him as the pilot on the flight. A memorial page set up by Ward’s family and agent, Chuck Campbell, states that Melotz was the pilot.
Fifty-six-year-old Melotz loved flying and had owned at least six types of planes, but the Cessna 182D was his most recent. According to the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, Melotz had purchased the plane just two days before the accident.
On the day of the plane crash, Melotz departed Ronan, Montana in his new Cessna 182D heading south to Missoula International Airport, where he picked up Ward. The two then continued heading southeast to the Rock Creek Airport. Around 2:45 p.m. Mountain Time, the plane crashed.
Remembering Darrell Ward, a “Montana Legend”
On television, Ward traversed remote areas of Canada and Alaska, but his home base was Deer Lodge, Montana, and he was well known by his neighbors for his involvement with the community. Whether joining forces with Montana authorities to fight forest fires or using his “Ice Road Truckers” fame for good causes, Ward was eager to help.
Most recently Ward worked to promote a food drive for victims of this summer’s devastating Louisiana floods, and prior to his small plane crash on August 28, Ward was scheduled to appear as the grand marshal of the Truck Convoy for Special Olympics Nova Scotia. Instead, his son Reno organized a Darrell Ward Tribute Tour to participate in the Convoy.
In the wake of his death, Ward’s two children, son Reno and daughter Terra have both spoken out to express their sadness over the tragic accident.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet what actually happened,” Reno Ward said when speaking with ABC Fox Montana. “So, it’s hard for me. I’ve been emotional at times, had some highs and lows but most of the time I’ve been in disbelief I think.”
Terra Ward, in a note posted to Darrell Ward’s memorial page on Facebook, said to her dad, “My heart hurts so bad, and trying not to think about you for one day is impossible.”