The preliminary report shows that the pilot of a Ponderosa Aviation aircraft was having trouble maintaining control of the plane in the minutes before it crashed into an Indiana field on Feb. 22, killing all three on board.

The crash took the lives of John Pagel and his son-in-law, Steve Witcpalek, of Kewaunee and their pilot, Nathan Saari of Bellevue. Pagel was the owner of Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, and Witcpalek was the farm’s operations manager.

The National Transportation Safety Board prliminary report released Monday says the plane took off from Eagle Creek Airpark in Indianapolis around 6:20 p.m. Central Time, heading for Green Bay.

“Shortly after takeoff the pilot deviated from the assigned heading and altitude. When questioned by the Indianapolis departure controller, the pilot replied that the airplane was out of control. The pilot then turned the airplane to a heading 90° and explained to the controller that he had a trim problem and difficulty controlling the airplane, but that he had the airplane back to straight and level. The pilot was issued a turn to a heading of 310°, followed by a clearance to climb and maintain 13,000 ft. The pilot was then instructed to contact the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZAU). The pilot checked in with ZAU57 sector stating that he was climbing from 10,600 ft to 13,000 ft. The pilot was cleared to climb to FL200 (20,000 ft) followed by a climb to FL230. The pilot was instructed to change frequencies to ZAU46 sector. The pilot then transmitted that he needed a minute to get control of the airplane and that he was having difficulty with the trim. Communication and radar contact was then lost.”

Witnesses reported that the engine sound was loud but steady up until they heard the impact. The wreckage was scattered over about a quarter-mile, the report said. There was no fire or explosion.

Photo: A Cessna 441 Conquest (not the one that crashed Feb. 22)