In the wake of the South Dakota plane crash that claimed 4 lives on Sunday, the NTSB now plans to focus on why the airplane was flying so low when it apparently hit the blade of a wind turbine.
The Piper 232 single-engine plane crashed in foggy weather Sunday evening 10 miles south of the central South Dakota city of Highmore, killing the pilot and three cattlemen returning from an annual cattle sale.
Possible factors include trouble with the pilot or plane and weather, according to Jennifer Rodi, an investigator with the NTSB.
“Was the pilot having problems? Was it the weather? Was the airplane having problems? We haven’t ruled anything out at this point,” Rodi said, adding that at this point in the investigation it isn’t known whether or not the pilot filed a flight plan. He was not communicating with air-traffic controllers at the time of the plane crash.
The plane was registered to 30 year old Donald Fischer, a part time emergency medical technician who worked as a crop sprayer for Air Kraft Spraying Inc.. An experienced pilot, Fischer followed in his father’s footsteps into the aviation business and was extremely involved in his community, said state Rep. Corey Brown, R- Gettysburg.
Brown, a longtime family friend, said Fischer had just gotten married in March.
“This is one of those things that’s going to hit the community pretty hard, because I would venture to say there are probably are not many people here who D.J. didn’t touch their life in some way,” Brown said.
Also killed in the crash were South Dakota cattlemen Nick Reimann of Ree Heights, Logan Rau of Java and Brent Beitelspacher of Bowdle. The three had flown to Hereford, Texas, to attend a sale of live cattle and embryos, said Mike Mimms, a veterinarian who runs the annual event.
Mimms said the cattlemen noted that they had a rough flight down because of high winds. Conditions were similar when they left.
“They made it through the windy weather, and the fog was the problem when they got there,” he said.
The wreckage of the crashed plane was found Monday at the South Dakota Wind Energy Center, a site south of Highmore with 27 turbines standing about 213 feet tall, plus the length of the blade. Steve Stengel, a spokesman with 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.
Highmore is less than 800 miles from Hereford, well within the maximum range of a Piper. However, factors such as head winds and how much fuel the Piper had before take off can affect range, so that will also be part of the investigation, she said.
Rodi said that to her knowledge the Piper did not stop to refuel, though that will be part of the NTSB investigation into the South Dakota plane crash.