4 dead as plane crashes at South Dakota wind farm

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Associated Press

Posted on April 28, 2014 at 3:32 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 28 at 5:04 PM

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.

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Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ddlammers

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