A former owner of the Magnetation iron ore processing operations near Grand Rapids is uninjured after the plane he was piloting crashed in a Canadian forest last month.
According to a recent article by Jimmy Lovrien, Forum News Service, on July 27, Matt Lehtinen, 37, was flying his Cirrus SR-22 from Wabush, Newfoundland and Labrador to Quebec City, Quebec when the plane’s engine malfunctioned. Lehtinen, in an interview with the Herald-Review earlier this week, said he has flown this route about 10 times. Lehtinen has had his pilot’s license for two years and has clocked more than 1,000 hours in a plane.
Still 25 miles away from the nearest airport, Lehtinen lowered his plane from 6,000 feet above the ground to about 2,000 feet and began looking for areas away from lakes or mountains that he could put his plane down if he needed to use the aircraft’s whole-plane parachute, a feature built into all of Duluth-based Cirrus’ planes.
“I then began planning for a parachute deployment ... About five minutes later, the engine quits and she turned into a glider from an airplane,” Lehtinen reported to Forum News Service on Thursday, Aug. 8.
Even with the parachute deployed, the plane only took one minute to descend to the ground below. Lehtinen figured he was traveling at 15 mph when the aircraft crashed onto the forest canopy.
“I was probably a few inches away from being killed by a tree that peeled through the bottom of the airplane,” Lehtinen explained to Forum News Service. “The tree came so close to injuring me it actually ripped my shorts and gave me this big scrape on my legs. But that was it.”
Lehtinen told the Herald-Review that, as soon as he crashed, he was concerned about fire.
“Then, I realized I didn’t have my satellite messenger because I jumped out of the plane as soon as it landed,” he continued. “That was the only moment I seriously worried about my life.”
Thankfully, the GPS was on the pilot’s seat. After stepping out of the plane, Lehtinen said he sent an SOS from his emergency satellite communicator.
“I felt better, but didn’t know if it was going to be five hours or three days” when he would be rescued.
He said that at this point, knowing that help was on the way, he took out his iPad and started documenting his experience; everything from getting bitten by mosquitoes, to fellow pilots flying overhead and offering their assistance by way of dropping a radio to his location, to lighting a fire so the rescue plane could see him, to the eventual helicopter rescue five hours after the crash.
“[Making the video] was actually therapeutic; it kept me calm,” he told the Herald-Review.
Lehtinen told Forum News Service that he felt compelled to start recording to document the experience, “thinking there might be some benefit or some learning that would come out of it for me and for other pilots.”
In the days following his crash and rescue, Lehtinen edited the footage together into a four-minute video and posted it on YouTube on Aug. 2. By Thursday afternoon, his video had over 284,000 views, Forum News Service reported.
In the days since, Lehtinen has been featured on various national and international news channels, including Good Morning America, Inside Edition, the Weather Channel, as well as a TV station in Australia and numerous organizations in Canada. Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” also reached out to him.
Lehtinen told the Herald-Review he’s still flying even today, and looking to find a replacement plane, most definitely another Cirrus. He also says that, in the future, he’d like to find a different route from Wabush to Quebec, one that’s “Not over such a remote area.”
Lehtinen said he was fairly well prepared with gear after the crash, but will carry a two-way radio, better clothes for the weather and bugs and extra water next time he flies.
Lehtinen is currently the president and chief operating officer of Tacora Resources, which is about to reopen the Scully Mine in Wabush. Tacora is based in Grand Rapids. Lehtinen and his father, Larry, led Magnetation in Minnesota prior to starting Tacora in 2017. At its peak in 2014, Magnetation had more than 500 employees, but closed its plants and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015 as iron ore prices plummeted.