The cause of a plane crash in Monticello that killed three people may not be determined for as long as a year.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigator at the scene of Friday's crash said Saturday a preliminary report would be completed in a week, but determining the official cause of the crash will take much longer

NTSB aviation accident investigator Josh Cawthra is leading a team that includes representatives of Lycoming Engines, Piper Aircraft, Inc., and the Federal Aviation Administration at the crash site about a mile east of the Monticello airport. Three Blanding men were killed when their single-engine Piper aircraft went down there around 7 a.m. Friday.

"A typical report can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete," Cawthra said. "My preliminary report should by on the NTSB Web site by next Saturday."

Cawthra said his team was gathering facts on the scene and making evaluations of the physical evidence, which was strewn as far as 190 feet from the plane's impact point. Cawthra said at the initial stage of a crash investigation, compiling accurate information is the priority. He would not comment on whether any clues to the cause of the accident had been uncovered.

In addition to the physical evidence at the scene, Cawthra said his team was acquiring documentation about the aircraft's maintenance history, witness testimony, environmental conditions and the man piloting the plane. He did confirm that the pilot, Eric Johnson, had a valid license to operate the aircraft.

Cawthra said his team would be completing its work on the scene by the end of the day Saturday, and the wreckage of the aircraft would be gathered and sent to a facility in Phoenix, where it will be securely stored for access as the investigation continues. Cawthra said the mandate of the NTSB following a tragedy like the one in Monticello is to insure safe air travel.

"Our primary mission is safety through investigations of these accidents," Cawthra said. "We strive to find possible safety issues to make recommendations to prevent future loss of life."

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