Authorities are still searching for answers today after three people were killed Sunday following a midair collision between two cargo planes near the Dodge-Jefferson county line, about five miles west of Watertown. At Daily Times press time today, however, Jefferson County Coroner Patrick Theder had determined two men and one woman from outside the area were killed in the crash.
The three people presumed dead were aboard a plane that crashed in a cornfield near the corner of West Road and Clifford Lane Sunday just before 5 p.m.
The other plane involved in the accident landed at Dodge County Airport in Juneau shortly after the incident. All three people in that plane walked away uninjured.
Jeff Baum, president of Wisconsin Aviation Inc. in Watertown, said the two aircrafts that collided were identical Shorts 360 cargo planes.
Information provided to Baum showed the planes had extensive maintenance done to them recently and those aboard were checking the improvements that were completed.
Baum also said the two planes left Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee 20 minutes a part from each other and following the maintenance inspections were supposed to land back at Mitchell.
“Neither aircraft was based at either Watertown or Dodge County, and as far as I know, neither aircraft frequented either of the two airports,” Baum said. “We just happened to be the ones that were nearby.”
“The crews decided to rendezvous and shoot pictures,” he added. “At some point things went wrong and one airplane hit the other one.”
Jefferson County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Kevin Stapleton said it is believed the people killed lived outside the immediate Jefferson/Dodge County area and were perhaps from out-of-state.
Federal authorities were at the crash site this morning examining the wreckage. They were also in Dodge County talking to the pilot and passengers of the second plane involved.
“After those interviews we will have a better idea of what was occurring around the time of the crash,” Stapleton said of the interviews taking place in Dodge County. “We have been working with the company that owns those planes and we just talked to Pat Theder who is identifying the bodies.”
Stapleton added that the bodies were taken to Madison late this morning for study.
Stapleton said Theder had to wait for federal authorities to examine the crash site before removing the badly burned bodies from the plane wreckage for identification.
“We are pretty comfortable that we know who the three people are and later today we should have positive identification on them,” Stapleton said.
The overall recovery of bodies was complicated, according to Stapleton, because federal authorities wanted the crash site to be kept in as close to its original state as possible.
“Once they were able to get a clear assessment of the impact scene, we could extricate the bodies,” Stapleton said. “It is an investigative scene that must be preserved for a certain period of time.”
According to Watertown Fire Chief Henry Butts, the Watertown Fire Department received a call Sunday at 4:54 p.m. for an airplane accident near the intersection of Highway 19 and Highway Q.
“En route to the scene you could see a large column of smoke from the city, so we knew that we definitely had something,” Butts said.
Firefighters followed the cloud of smoke and found a large amount of fiery debris in a cornfield, about 125 yards from the home at W5904 Clifford Lane.
In that field were two large pieces of wreckage with several spot fires in-between, Butts said. “There was one main body of fire that ultimately turned out to be where the cockpit was,” he said. Butts added the second piece of wreckage was a wing.
“You couldn't even recognize it as an aircraft,” Butts said. “If you didn't know you were going to a plane crash, and you saw this, all you would say is ‘I am not sure what it is, but it is not a car.' There was nothing recognizable as an airplane except the landing gear.”
Firefighters had difficulty in reaching the fire with the proper equipment because the plane crashed in the middle of a muddy cornfield. “There was no way we could get our trucks in there so we had to use our wildland firefighting unit,” Butts said.
Another difficulty the 25 firefighters came across was the plane was mostly made of magnesium.
“Magnesium is very strong and lightweight, however, you cannot put it out with water very easily,” Butts said. He added firefighters used special extinguishing agents that consist of powders and foams to subdue the blaze.
“We were able to get it down to a point where it was just smoldering and then the Federal Aviation Administration asked us not to disturb it any further so the evidence would be preserved,” the fire chief said.
Butts said the full-scale Wisconsin National Guard exercise to familiarize local officials in a multiagency response to a terrorism event that was held in the city in October of last year greatly helped the fire department with this particular incident.
“That exercise involved two planes with one of them crashing in the city and the other crash landed at out local airport,” Butts said. “This is not to far away from what actually happened yesterday. Even though we are a small city we do have big city problems that we have to deal with.”
“Here it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon where most people were getting ready to watch the Super Bowl, and something like this happens,” he added. “It can happen anytime of the day and any day of the week. We have to be prepared to respond and do the best we can to handle it.”