The chief engineer for the Cirrus SF50 jet program was killed Friday afternoon less than four minutes after taking off in a 2016 Cirrus SR22 GTS G6 from Duluth (Minnesota) International Airport (KDLH). David Rathbun, 52, was flying the piston single—which was registered as N929DR—when it crashed onto the frozen St. Louis River near the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge at the Wisconsin-Minnesota border.
Eyewitnesses said the aircraft skidded across the ice and then fell into open water and became mostly submerged. Rathbun was the sole occupant. Authorities on scene said there is no evidence the aircraft hit the bridge. One eyewitness said the aircraft was smoking as it descended. After takeoff, the aircraft reached a speed of 181 knots and an altitude of 2,975 feet, according to tracking data from Flightaware. Last contact showed the aircraft at 128 knots and an altitude of 1,325 feet. Weather at the time was reported VFR.
Rathbun joined Cirrus in 1996 where he held a variety of positions, including engineering flight test pilot. He held a master’s degree in engineering from Louisiana Tech. In a post on social media, his brother, airshow pilot Daniel Rathbun, described him as a “brilliant” engineer.