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Four people killed when plane crashes at South Dakota wind farm

By Dirk Lammers

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- A small airplane heading back to South Dakota after a Texas cattle sale crashed into a wind farm in foggy weather, killing the pilot and three passengers.

Steve Stengel, a spokesman for Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources says the wreckage was found at the 27-turbine South Dakota Wind Energy Center.

The FAA says the single-engine Piper found Monday was registered to Donald J. "D.J." Fischer of Gettysburg, South Dakota.

Funeral homes confirmed the deaths of Fischer and cattlemen Brent Beitelspacher, of Bowdle, and Logan Rau, of Java. The fourth passenger was not named.

The National Weather Service in Aberdeen says fog and low clouds combined for reduced visibility in the area Sunday night. Winds were out of the east at about 15 to 25 mph and there were scattered showers.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A small airplane heading back to South Dakota after a Texas cattle sale crashed into a wind farm in foggy weather, killing the pilot and three passengers.

Elizabeth Cory, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the Piper 32 was traveling from Hereford, Texas, to Gettysburg, South Dakota. The single-engine plane was registered to Donald J. "D.J." Fischer of Gettysburg, according to the FAA.

Authorities have not released the names of the victims, and the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

The three passengers were in Hereford to attend a sale of live cattle and embryos, primarily for the production of show steers, said Mike Mimms, a veterinarian who runs the annual event.

Mimms said the three cattlemen noted that they had a rough flight down to Texas due to high winds, and conditions were similar in Hereford when they left.

"They made it through the windy weather, and the fog was the problem when they got there," he said.

The wreckage was found Monday at the South Dakota Wind Energy Center, a site south of Highmore with 27 turbines that are about 213 feet tall, plus the length of the blade.

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.

"It's been so foggy up there and we haven't had a chance to investigate," Stengel said Monday.

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.

Mimms, who performs cattle embryo transfers, said the news has sent shock and sadness through the close-knit ranching community.

"There are a lot of people out there who feel like they lost one of their best friends," Mimms said.

Join the discussion

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ELEANOR DEMARZO April 28 2014 at 11:41 PM

god bless them all and there familys rip all

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klassikars April 28 2014 at 10:36 PM

Perfect case of gotta get home, and not enough experience, or airplane to get the job done...NEVER fly with someone you don't know 100% and INCLEMENT weather and small craft are mighty risky.

They shoulda stayed in Hereford another day and got up and enjoyed the sunshine and the fragrant aroma of cow pies. I'm always in a hurry myself to get through that town.,... NICE place mind you, and nice folks, but EWwwwEEE!

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Josey April 29 2014 at 11:58 AM

Flight into IMC, pilot became inorientated, lost control of the ac and crashed. The aircraft, a PA 32 is a very stable ac and has the ability to to fly, "hands off" (auto pilot) if need be. Very similiar to the fatal accident in CO., where the aircraft encountered the same IMC situation. Sad.

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1 reply
Josey Josey April 29 2014 at 11:59 AM

Should read, "disorientated". Sorry.

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aek0914 April 28 2014 at 9:43 PM

Nothing in the news if the pilot was IFR qualified and under an IRF flight plan. If he was low and a VFR pilot flying into IMC? The article says a whole lot of nothing regarding the cause.

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1 reply
niksuinc aek0914 April 29 2014 at 12:21 AM

It is good to see one pilot in the crowd. Scud running gets a lot of pilots. If you fly the airways and do not go below the MDA (minimum decent altitude) you should be fine. Missed approach is what you practice for when you do not see the ground at the designated altitude around the airport. Never go lower without having visual with the ground/airport area. It is very unlikely the aircraft had a mechanical problem. Mark my word, PILOT ERROR is what the NTSB will chock it up to. Low level clouds are one thing but when it comes to FOG, a cloud on the ground, you just don't mess with it. You may get away with it once or twice but sooner or later it will bite you. That is why we fly IFR and also have our own minimums. Our own minimums should never be below the published minimums for that airport. Jon S. CFII

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bjredmond64 April 29 2014 at 10:18 AM

why take chances of going in bad weather? my brother flies a lot. he always checks the weather patterns and does not take chances. smart guy.

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1 reply
Arthur bjredmond64 April 29 2014 at 10:45 AM


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Cap'n Mikey April 29 2014 at 11:22 AM

They should have stayed in Heredford until the weather improved...get-home-itis kills a lot of people..sad needless loss of life, flying is safe on scheduled commercial United States airlines, otherwisw you are taking your chances, don't fly small aircraft when the weather is marginal, fly commercial.

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sck1623 April 29 2014 at 1:58 AM

A few years back where I live, a small cessna clipped a power line that was probably only 40 ft above ground. The crash was at dusk and killed the two people on board. Accidents can and do happen. i agree with the previous poster who pointed out that if contemplating flying in bad weather, sometimes its just bettet to get a motel room and wait.

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lletraw April 29 2014 at 10:20 AM

At night it is difficult to determine where the clouds are. Likewise, with visibility detrermination. Add rain showers, and a pilot can be "flying blind" in a matter of seconds. Image driving your car, suddenly not being able to see out your windshield. Plus, you cannot pull over, or slow down under 60 MPH. The wings will not supply lift if you slow down too much.
Very sad, but unfortunately this type of accident happens all too often.

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Pllc15 April 29 2014 at 11:56 AM

A consideration never considered about windfarm windmills until now such as establishing height limitations, blinkers, warning signals, radar alarms, etc. , adding more costs to project. FAA or USTSB may begin on it. Windfarms are not the panacea they are made out to be : endangerment to birds, environmental eyesore, land hogs ( 1 acre per windmill), inefficient on a commercial scale, etc. If I had to choose, I'd go with solar energy even though solar does have its downsides also.

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MICHAEL April 29 2014 at 11:28 AM

shouldnt there be blinking red lites on top of these towers to warn aircraft? and shouldnt you check the weather BEFORE you take off and not wait to be surprised?

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