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A preliminary report about a Texas plane crash earlier this month that killed three Utah men said the aircraft appeared to have lost its rudder just before crashing into a pasture minutes after takeoff.

Passengers Michael Dale Bradley, 44, and Michael Endo, 51, both of Salt Lake City, died in the crash along with pilot Rob Thompson, 49, of Saratoga Springs.

All three worked for Utah-based Celtic Bank, which owned the Piper PA46 plane that crashed Jan. 12 near Paris, Texas.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a report on Jan. 22 that cited two witnesses who heard the plane just before it crashed on a cold, foggy morning. A cause of the crash was not offered in the report.

According to the NTSB, the plane crashed at about 8:54 a.m., less than a minute after the pilot had contact with air traffic control operators in Fort Worth, Texas.

A witness working on a farm near the accident site at about 9 a.m. heard the plane's engine. He told investigators he could not see the plane because of the fog, but reported hearing the engine rev about three times, then silence. About 15 minutes later, the farmer saw black smoke from the crash site about a half-mile northwest from his barn but didn't hear the impact.

A second witness said he heard the plane's engine "back-firing" four or five times while he was working at a natural gas plant near the crash site sometime between 8:30 and 9 a.m. that day.

The plane was relatively intact except that a rudder that served as a horizontal stabilizer was found about 30 feet from the crash site. The wreckage seemed to show that the plane was in a "flat, counter-clockwise rotating spin" before impact, the report states. A fire consumed most of the cockpit, right wing and fuselage after the crash.

The report said Thompson, the plane's pilot, had logged more than 2,300 total flight hours, 118 of them on the type of plane that crashed. According to the flight plan that day, the men were headed to Austin, Texas. A call to Celtic Bank seeking comment on the preliminary findings was not immediately returned Monday.

A final probable-cause report on the crash will be released once the investigation is finished.

Twitter: @KimballBennion