REEDSBURG - Two people died when a small plane crashed near the Reedsburg Municipal Airport on Thursday morning.
Reedsburg Police declined to release the identities of the pilot or passenger, though the aircraft is registered to a Wisconsin Dells resident. It was not clear if the plane's owner was aboard at the time of the crash.
The plane, a Challenger II single-engine ultralight, nosedived into the ground next to a metal barn behind Skinner Transfer and O'Reilly Auto Parts shortly after leaving the Reedsburg Municipal Airport at about 11:15 a.m. Eyewitnesses said the plane was trying to gain altitude when it began to wobble.
"It looked like it was trying to get up and it was wobbling like it wasn't sure of itself and then we heard the bang," said Brittani Pitt, who was heading into O'Reilly Auto Parts with her boyfriend when they saw the plane.
Britt Solverson - co-owner of Solverson Aviation, which operates out of the Reedsburg airport - said based on the accounts he heard from employees who saw the crash, a stall and spin may have caused the crash.
He said plane weight, wind and air density all could factor into such an accident.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Reedsburg Police Department are conducting an investigation to determine the cause of the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board also will conduct an investigation.
Solverson said he knows three things for sure at this point, but also was still learning details about the crash.
"The flight originated from the (Reedsburg) airport, it was an ultralight aircraft and the pilot was someone from the area," he said.
Moments after she heard the loud crash, Pitt said employees from Skinner Transfer started shouting that a plane went down and that someone should call 911. Pitt said she, her boyfriend and employees began running toward the site of the crash, which wasn't easy to find because there wasn't any smoke.
Bill Hamburg, Pitt's boyfriend, was one of the first people on scene. He said it appeared that the pilot had sustained a major head injury and neither he nor the passenger was conscious.
"It's pretty bad," Hamburg said at the scene.
He said he heard the sound of "tin hitting tin" after watching the plane wobble and guessed that it may have glanced off the top of the shed and heading straight down from there.
"It folded them up," Hamburg said.
The wings of the plane were nearly touching the ground and the cockpit of the ultralight plane was located at a nearly identical depth with the wings. There was no fire or explosion, but a strong smell of gas cropped up almost immediately after the crash, Hamburg said.
Rex Hinze, an employee of Skinner Transfer, didn't see the plane crash, but he heard it. He said it sounded like the plane still was at full throttle when it hit the ground right before the loud bang.