HIGHMORE – Three South Dakota cattlemen and a former star Gettysburg athlete were killed in a plane crash late Sunday night near Highmore.
The plane encountered heavy fog and crashed into a wind turbine, officials said Monday.
• Brent Beitelspacher, who would have turned 38 on Monday, of Bowdle.
• Logan Rau, 25, of Java.
• Donald “D.J.” Fischer, 30, of Gettysburg.
• Nick Reimann, 33, of Ree Heights.
Beitelspacher, Rau and Reimann were all well-known in the cattle industry. Fischer, presumed to be the pilot of the plane, played college football at South Dakota State University in the mid-2000s.
The plane was en route to Gettysburg from Hereford, Texas, according to Federal Aviation Administration official Elizabeth Cory. She said the National Transportation Safety Board is heading the crash investigation and the FAA is assisting.
She confirmed the tail number of the plane as N8700E. According to FAA records, a plane with that tail number, a Piper PA-32R-300, was registered to Fischer. It is a fixed-wing, single-engine plane manufactured in 1976.
The wreckage was found Monday at the South Dakota Wind Energy Center, a site about 10 miles south of Highmore off of state Highway 47, and a few miles west on 207th Street. The wind center has 27 turbines that are about 213 feet tall, plus the length of the blade.
An access road near that intersection was blocked Monday by the Hyde County Sheriff’s Department and the Highmore Fire Department.
Steve Stengel, a spokesman with Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc., said there was damage to a turbine, but he couldn’t say what part of the tower was hit.
At least one wind farm turbine appeared to be damaged and was not spinning Monday, but it wasn’t clear whether that had anything to do with the accident.
“It’s been so foggy up there and we haven’t had a chance to investigate,” Stengel told the Associated Press on Monday.
Mike Mimms, a veterinarian in Hereford, said Beitelspacher, Rau and Reimann were in Hereford for a cow and genetic club calf sale Saturday. Mimms said Beitelspacher had one cow consigned in the sale and Rau had two.
Mimms, who oversaw the sale, said that he has been buying cattle from the Beitelspachers for the past 15 years, but that he met Brent Beitelspacher in person for the first time for about a minute before Saturday’s sale.
All three men had excellent reputations in the cattle industry, Mimms said. He said he and Beitelspacher have done millions of dollars in business over the phone without any concerns or problems.
“It was always honest dealings and fair dealings and mutual respect,” Mimms said.
“I can’t get their families out of my mind, thinking about them,” he said of the victims.
Mimms said Beitelspacher traveled to Hereford so the two could meet after doing business together for so long, not to watch his one cow sell. Hereford is southwest of Amarillo in north Texas.
“They came down here to support this sale, not for any reason of their own,” Mimms said.
Reimann’s Ree Heights ranch has raised grand champion steers for many prestigious cattle shows across the country.
“Nick Reimann was probably the No. 1 breeder in the show industry,” Mimms said.
Folks in Texas who did business with the South Dakotans had nothing but good things to say about the victims, Mimms said. And that’s not always the case in the cattle industry, he said.
“They were good guys. Well-respected,” Mimms said.
Mimms said winds in northern Texas reached 60 mph Sunday, so the South Dakotans waited out the worst of the conditions and took off about 4:45 p.m. He said some folks who were at the sale were worried about the plane taking off in the gusty, dusty conditions, but didn’t know about the bad weather in South Dakota.
On his Twitter account, Rau referred to there being a blowing dust advisory Sunday. The day before, he noted he was headed to Hereford and posted a photo of the plane’s wing.
Mimms said he heard about the crash early Monday morning and was told the plane encountered heavy fog as it approached home.
Dave Hintz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Aberdeen, said that first responders in the Highmore area reported foggy conditions early Monday morning. There were likely low clouds in the area much like those in Aberdeen on Monday.
It rained off and on Monday in Highmore. The tops of the wind turbines were hidden in fog, and gravel roads were soft.
Skyla Ratzlaff, the nearest homeowner to the crash site, said she heard lots of wind and rain between 9 and 10 p.m. Sunday.
“It was really gusting. I thought it was hailing,” she said explaining that what she heard was actually heavy rain. “The wind fluctuated so. It was strange. Creepy.”
Kathy Zilverberg, an emergency medical technician in Highmore, said she didn’t receive the original call to respond to the accident scene, but received an alert at 2:30 a.m. asking for any available emergency responders to aid in the search for a missing plane.
Zilverberg said it’s tough getting such a call.
“It’s something that’s so hard to explain,” she said, adding that emergency responders often wonder who the victim might be and whether it’s somebody they’ll know.
“You hope it’s notsomeone you know,” she said.
In this case, Zilverberg knew those involved.
“It’s a pretty big impact,” she said. “They’re very well-known people.”
“It’s a tough deal for everyone in the community,” said Doug Kroeplin, owner of Kroeplin Ag Services at the Highmore airport north of town.
Kroeplin said emergency responders are all volunteers and the scope of this accident isn’t something the volunteer team is accustomed to or trained for.
“We’re a small rural community,” Kroeplin said. “We’re not used to tragedies.”
Harlan Reed, an employee at the Highmore Farmers Elevator, said the accident shocked everybody.
“It seems like when something happens in Hyde County it’s a bad deal,” Reed said.
Touched many lives
Fischer, a crop sprayer for Air Kraft Spraying Inc., followed in his father’s footsteps into the aerial business and was extremely involved in his community, state Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, told the AP.
Brown, a longtime family friend, said Fischer had just gotten married in March and was a volunteer emergency medical technician who was often out on calls.
“This is one of those things that’s going to hit the community pretty hard, because I would venture to say there probably are not many people here who D.J. didn’t touch their life in some way,” Brown told the AP.
Fischer attended South Dakota State University and played defensive tackle for the school’s football team from 2002 to 2005.
John Stiegelmeier, SDSU’s head football coach, described Fischer as a gifted athlete who was a great friend to his teammates.
“I’m a small-school guy and he was the same – phenomenal work ethic, phenomenal loyalty to the coaching staff and his teammates,” Stiegelmeier told the AP. “Whatever you asked D.J. to do, he did it, with a smile on his face, too. He didn’t hesitate.”
Hand County Sheriff Doug DeBoer said his office was contacted early Monday morning to help search for an overdue plane. DeBoer said he and others from the sheriff’s office and a Miller police officer helped search near the wind farm in Hyde County before being told about 4 a.m. that the plane had been found.
Hyde County officials referred calls to the state’s attorney’s office, but no information was available Monday from the office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
4 killed in plane wreck; friends remember victims
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