A pilot and three cattlemen died early Monday morning near Highmore when their plane struck a wind turbine.
Tony Molinaro, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the single-engine Piper PA-32 was reported missing on Sunday and was later found 10 miles south of the central South Dakota town. The plane was traveling from Hereford, Texas, to Gettysburg, according to the FAA.
An FAA team was sent to the crash site Monday. However, since there were fatalities, the investigation is under the jurisdiction of the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB did not return calls seeking comment by Monday evening.
A preliminary accident and incident report on the FAA’s website Monday night said the aircraft struck a wind tower and lists the plane’s condition as “destroyed.” The report also said the plane was the subject of an alert notice, which was sent out at 2:40 a.m. on Monday.
The four victims have been identified as Nick Reimann of Ree Heights, Logan Rau of Java, Brent Beitelspacher of Bowdle and Donald “DJ” Fischer of Gettysburg.
According to FAA records the plane was registered to Fischer.
A graduate of South Dakota State University, Fischer played football for the school in the mid-2000s under current head coach John Stiegelmeier.
“DJ was a picture of what you want out of a student athlete,” Stiegelmeier said. “He was one of those guys who when you asked him to do something there was no hesitation.”
Fischer had an unbelievable work ethic, he said, and stayed connected to the football program even after graduating.
The 30-year-old, who, according to the South Dakota Aviation Association, was a pilot for Air Kraft Spraying Inc., died in the vehicle he made a living with, Stiegelmeier said.
Fischer was one of seven siblings. According to his brother, Michael, he had three nieces and two nephews and was a loving family man. Fischer married his wife, Megan, six weeks ago.
As a volunteer firefighter and EMT, Fischer was always there to help other people, Michael said.
“He was a community man,” Michael said.
The wreckage was found at the South Dakota Wind Energy Center, a group of wind turbines, all approximately 300-foot-tall, placed on several parcels of private property. The crash site was in a pasture west of South Dakota State Highway 47 and north of 207th Street.
Steve Stengel, a spokesman for Florida-based NextEra Engery Inc, whose subsidiary operates the turbines, said the company was notified early Monday morning about the missing plane. One of the wind turbine technicians on the site is a volunteer fireman, and he was alerted to the situation at 3 a.m., Stengel said.
Because of the weather – heavy fog and moderate rain for most of the day – no one from NextEra had been out to inspect the turbines, Stengel said. He could not confirm what damage had been done to the turbines.
“We are following the lead of the authorities who are leading the investigation,” he said.
The Hyde County Sheriff’s Office had all access to the area blocked off Monday and referred all questions to the Hyde County State’s Attorney. The State’s Attorney’s office referred questions to the FAA.
The identities of Fischer and the other victims were released by the families and the funeral homes making the burial arrangements.
Rau’s sister, TiAnn Poloncic, said her 25-year-old brother could sell a ketchup Popsicle to someone wearing white gloves.
“He had the gift of gab and could make anyone laugh,” she added.
Rau loved his family, hunting, ice fishing, the Kansas City Chiefs and treated his three dogs like children, Poloncic said.
Rau married his wife, Natalie, a school teacher in Bowdle, on July 27, 2013. He attended Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown and was halfway done with a paramedic program before making the choice to head back to the family farm and run the operation with his father Todd, Poloncic said.
“He was living the American dream,” she said. “He was a tough farmer but he had a soft heart. He loved what he did.”
Beitelspacher, who turned 38 on Monday, was remembered by friends and loved ones for his passion.
“He was very energetic,” said his mother Carla. “He was ready to capture the world.”
He was a very loving husband and father and a hard worker who almost always had a smile on his face, she said.
Carla Beitelspacher said her son loved hunting, fishing and being outdoors. Beitelspacher had a sale barn in Gettysburg for 10 years before he began working for Northern Plains, a diversified farmer-owned county operation of Cenex Harvest States.
Cory Jueneman was one of the people that traveled around the country, hunted and fished with Beitelspacher.
“We fished a lot of tournaments over the years,” he said, “and hunted everything we could.”
The men had become so close they spoke every day while they went to work. “I talked to him every day at 6:50 in the morning,” Jueneman said, adding that counted the weekends also. He and Beitelspacher even vacationed together, taking their wives with them. This year, the group went to Costa Rica, Jueneman said.
“We were pretty big buddies,” he said.
Reimann, 33, operated Reimann Ranch along with his wife Kyrstin according to the company’s website.
The four men traveled to Hereford to attend an annual cattle sale hosted by Mike Mimms, a veterinarian, on Saturday.
“Nick Reimann had some of the best cows in the country,” said Mimms. “He was an influential breeder in the industry.”
Mimms considered Reimann a long-time friend, who was well respected among cattlemen.
Although he had been purchasing cattle from Beitelspacher for more than a decade, Mimms hadn’t met his supplier until last weekend. Mimms met Rau the same day.
Fog and low clouds combined for reduced visibility in the Highmore area on Sunday night, and winds were out of the east at about 15 to 25 mph, said Renee Wise, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Aberdeen. There were also scattered showers across region Sunday night, and some might have been heavy at times, she said.
The cattlemen, along with Fischer, tried to wait for extreme winds to subside before making the flight back to South Dakota, Mimms said. They even considered heading back with another cattleman who was driving back to South Dakota early Sunday morning, he said, but the men didn’t want to trouble him.
“The people that have lost family members need to know that people in Texas realize that the parents and the families of those guys are well respected here,” Mimms said. “The guys came down here to support us and pay respects to customers they had.That’s a thing that weighs on my mind – if it hadn’t been for this sale, they wouldn’t have been here.”
Information from he Associated Press contributed to this report.
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