Pilot killed, two injured as plane crashes into farm

by Jeff Pederson of The Review staff

A crash involving a single-passenger vintage military aircraft shortly after takeoff from the Sheboygan County Memorial Airport claimed the life of the pilot and injured two employees of Fly- By Acres Farm in the town of Sheboygan Falls on Friday, July 20.

According to the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department, at approximately 4:06 p.m., the Sheboygan County Emergency Communications Center received multiple phone calls regarding a plane that had crashed after take-off from the Sheboygan County Airport.

As law enforcement units arrived, they found a single passenger aircraft had crashed into several farm buildings, including a barn and calving building, at Fly-By Acres Farm across the road on the southeast corner of County O and Meadowlark Road and was on fire.

The aircraft involved was a vintage military DE Havilland DH112 Venom plane piloted by Martin J. Tibbits, 50, of Grosse Point, Mich., who was ruled dead at the scene.

Tibbits was headed to an annual clinic where pilots practice formation flying skills.

Two employees of the farm, a male and female, were injured, several farm animals were killed and other animals were injured when the plane crashed into the buildings, which were estimated to contain 40-50 animals.

Officials have not released the names of the farm workers.

“They were workers actually feeding cattle and calves in the building where the plane came through and were hit by the airplane as it came through the building,” said town of Sheboygan Falls Fire Chief Bob Kroeplien at a press conference at the Aviation Heritage Center on the Sheboygan County Memorial Airports grounds on Saturday, July 21.

Fly-By Acres Farmh is owned by town of Sheboygan Falls Fire Chief Bob Kroeplien’s brother, James Kroeplien.

“We would like to thank our family and friends for your thoughts and assistance during this time,” the James Kroeplien family said in a statement on the Fly-By Acres Facebook page. “We need to thank the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department, all our local fire departments, neighbors and the Dairy Doctors Vet Clinic for your help. We ask that you keep our employees and their families in your thoughts and prayers. Also send your prayers to the pilot’s family. We appreciate everyone’s help during this tragedy. There is never a good way to say thank you to everyone that assisted, but our family is very appreciative of everything our community has done.”

National Traffic Safety Board Air Safety Investigator Jack Vanover indicated that the NTSB will issue a preliminary report on the factors contributing to the crash within a week.

“We are here to gather the facts so we can attempt to determine probable cause so we can try to prevent this from happening ever again,” Vanover said at Saturday’s press conference.

Vanover said the investigation will look how multiple factors may have contribution to the accident, including the pilot, the plane and the environment.

He noted that the NTSB will issue a more detailed report in six months to a year, which will include more concrete information and facts and in 12 to 18 months they will issue a probable cause report with the intention of “improving aviation safety.”

Officials at the press conference advised community members to limit their use of County O as the investigation continues in the coming days and weeks.

Aviation Heritage Center Board Vice President Paul Walter commended the community for their support following the accident.

“We’re really pleased, as a pilot and as a board member of the Aviation Heritage Center, with the support and understanding that we’re all getting from the people of Sheboygan,” Walter said. “As any community, we’ve lost one of our members, so that is a very sad thing. With time and the NTSB, we’re going to learn from this.”

After touting the airport’s safety record, Walter said it was the first incident to occur during the 11 years that the Aviation Heritage Center has held the formation clinic ahead of EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh.

An investigation was conducted by the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office as well as the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash drew a response from a large contingent of emergency unit resources, including Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department, Sheboygan Falls and Kohler police departments, Wisconsin State Patrol, the Sheboygan County Highway Department, Orange Cross Ambulance, town of Sheboygan Falls Fire Department, town of Sheboygan Falls First Responders, Johnsonville Fire Department, Oostburg Fire Department, city of Sheboygan Falls Fire Department, Waldo Fire Department, Cedar Grove Fire Department, Plymouth Fire Department, Plymouth Fire Ambulance, town of Wilson Fire Department, town of Wilson First Responders, Kohler Fire Department, Haven Fire Department, Ada Fire Department, Greenbush Fire Department, Cascade Fire Department, Howards Grove Fire Department, Sheboygan Sheriff’s Department Drone Unit and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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