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Plane crash investigation

Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder gathers with fire and rescue personnel on Old Divide Road near the scene of an airplane crash on Sunday morning. The airplane was overdue from a Saturday evening flight from Billings.

Four bodies were recovered from a plane crash discovered Sunday morning north of Billings, according to Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder.

Linder said his agency learned of an overdue aircraft late Saturday night and began working on a search with federal agencies.

After finding the plane's last known location using a radar track, Linder said the crash between Billings and Roundup was discovered by flying in a helicopter piloted by Al Blain, co-owner of Billings Flying Service, a local business that provides specialized helicopter and flying services. 

The plane crashed near Dunn Mountain and was found at the bottom of its west-facing slope. Aerial searching began at first light Sunday. The sheriff said there were "no signs of life" in the crash wreckage after it was initially found Sunday morning.

Early Sunday morning the sheriff said he believed multiple people may have been on the plane, but that he did not have an exact number. At about 4:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon four bodies were recovered, Linder wrote in an evening press release. The bodies were taken to the state morgue in Billings and autopsies are scheduled for Monday morning to identify the victims, per the press release.

The plane that crashed is a Cessna 182. The fixed-wing, single-engine plane typically has four seats.

Based on his initial observations at the crash site, Linder said it appeared the plane hit a guy wire from a roughly 200-foot radio tower on Dunn Mountain, went off the edge and tumbled down the side of the mountain before coming to a rest below.

The Federal Aviation Agency confirmed Sunday morning it was aware of a Cessna 182 that crashed under unknown circumstances about 25 miles north of Billings at approximately 6 p.m. Saturday night. The FAA emphasized that the time of crash was not confirmed. Approximate crash time was determined by last contact with FAA Flight Services. 

Multiple agencies were organizing Sunday morning in an area along Old Divide Road near Highway 87 and trying to find the best access to the crash. Linder said access to the crash site was difficult due to the terrain, limited trail access, and multiple coulees in the area. 

"It's tough. It's not a real rough area but there's some coulees and stuff that it's tough to get across," Linder said.

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Both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash. Investigators arrived in Billings on Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon, the FAA released a more detailed timeline of the wreck. The estimated time of the crash remained at 6 p.m. Saturday. The initial alert notice for the missing aircraft went out at 3:10 a.m. Sunday and the wreckage was found at about 10 a.m., per the FAA.

Agencies that responded include the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office, the Shepherd Volunteer Fire Department, the Musselshell County Sheriff's Office and the Montana Highway Patrol. 

Plans were being made to use a drone piloted by MHP to document part of the crash site. Yellowstone County Coroner Cliff Mahoney, Deputy Coroner Rich Hoffman and state medical examiner Dr. Robert Kurtzman also responded. 

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