Three South Dakota cattlemen and a former star Gettysburg athlete were killed in a plane crash late Sunday night April 27, 2014 near Highmore. The Federal Aviation Administration says the crash involved a Piper 32 aircraft. Elizabeth Cory, a spokesperson for the FAA in Chicago says the crash was reported about 3:44 a.m. Monday morning and the plane had been traveling from Texas to Gettysburg, South Dakota.
Killed were: Nick Reimann, 33, of Ree Heights; Brent Beitelspacher, 37,of Bowdle; Logan Rau, 25, of Java; and Donald “D.J.” Fischer, 30, of Gettysburg.
Beitelspacher, Rau and Reimann were all well-known in the cattle industry. Fischer, the pilot of the plane, played college football at South Dakota State University in the mid-2000s and a crop sprayer.
The National Weather Service in Aberdeen says the Highmore area experienced low clouds and fog that night.
The plane encountered heavy fog and crashed into a wind turbine, officials said Monday. An investigator says that it will likely take at least ten months before more information becomes available from the crash of the Piper single engine plane.
Cory 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. The Highmore Fire Department, Hyde County Sheriff, Hand County Sheriff and Hand County Emergency Mananger were among agencies called to the scene. The FAA has been contacted to look into the accident and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is leading that investigation.
An access road near that intersection was blocked Monday by Hyde County Sheriffs and the Highmore Fire Department.
Jennifer Rodi, a senior air safety investigator with the NTSB said that the wreckage of the plane is being stored in a facility in Colorado and plans call for the debris to be examined in mid-May.
A preliminary report on the accident was issued last week. Rodi says a factual report will be released sometime in the next 8-10 months and a probable cause statement will follow from the NTSB. Rodi says the NTSB will check into the background of the pilot and gather details on weather from the evening of the crash among other issues.
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 damaged and was not spinning Monday, but it wasn’t clear whether that had 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 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.
He 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.